Sacramento federal court to hear clergy housing allowance case
By Richard Binder
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit last year in Sacramento federal court, challenging the "parsonage allowance" given to clergy that permits them a tax benefit on housing income. The Foundation claims this benefit to be a violation of the First Amendment.
A ruling in favor of the Foundation would mean the nation's clergy would have to report their housing allowances as income, and strike a costly blow to many churches and congregations. Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, predicts many smaller churches would consequently have to shut down.
But Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Foundation, says that secular workers for nonprofit organizations and other low-paid workers like day care workers aren't eligible for the tax break. And Erwin Chemerinsky, appointed by the appellate court to research the constitutionality of the allowance, says the Supreme Court "has said that the government cannot favor religion over secular activities. This does just that."
Intervention Denied In Case Challenging Parsonage Allowance In Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Geithner, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111776 (ED CA, Dec. 2, 2009), a California federal district court refused to permit a pastor to intervene in FFRF's Establishment Clause challenge to the parsonage allowance provisions in the federal and California tax laws...
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