January 2014 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that special tax exemptions for clergy housing violate the First Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

 Supporters of the exemption argue that without it, clergy tending small congregations will be harmed.

“The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse,” said Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sponsored the litigation, hailed the ruling.

In a press release, co-presidents Anne Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote, “May we say hallelujah! This decision agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax.”

Crabb’s ruling will likely be appealed. (Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Lew)