PRESS RELEASE-FOUNDATION FOR MORAL LAW:
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MONTGOMERY: Kayla Moore, President of the Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law, applauded the decision of the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversing a Wisconsin federal district court’s ruling that the pastors’ housing allowance is unconstitutional. The Foundation had filed an amicus brief urging reversal.
Churches often provide their pastors and their pastors’ families with a parsonage in which to live and conduct part of their ministry, and this parsonage does not constitute taxable income. Churches which do not provide a parsonage often designate a portion of their pastors’ salary as a housing allowance, and this housing allowance is excluded from income provided it is used entirely for housing. The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the Department of Internal Revenue, claiming this housing allowance is an unconstitutional establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment. A federal district court agreed and held the housing allowance unconstitutional, but a Seventh Circuit three-judge panel unanimously reversed, holding that the FFRF lacked standing to challenge the housing provision.
The FFRF claimed standing because its officers did not receive a housing allowance, but the Circuit Court noted that they had never applied for a housing allowance. The Foundation for Moral Law argued in its amicus brief that the issue was not whether FFRF officials qualified for a housing allowance, but whether an atheist organization could potentially qualify for an allowance. The Foundation noted that not all atheist organizations could qualify, but some might qualify if they provide similar services for their members that churches provide for their congregations. Not all atheist organizations would qualify, just as not all Christian organizations qualify as churches. As the Foundation stated in its brief, “Amicus Foundation for Moral Law is an avowedly Christian organization, but the Foundation does not claim to be a church.” The Circuit Court adopted similar reasoning, noting that it would be inappropriate to decide the standing issue before the IRS determines that an atheist organization cannot qualify.
“Christians and churches should be encouraged by this decision,” Ms. Moore said. “The Freedom from Religion Foundation writes many letters to school boards and local governments demanding that they censor religious expression, but they seldom follow through with lawsuits, and when they do, they often lose.”