Magazine article The Christian Century

Clergy Housing Exemption Still Faces Threat. (News)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Clergy Housing Exemption Still Faces Threat. (News)

Article excerpt

A federal court has thrown out one challenge to a longstanding benefit that exempts American clergy from paying taxes on the money they spend on housing. But a law professor challenging the practice vows to file another lawsuit claiming that it is unconstitutional.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco dismissed a high-profile case August 26 pitting Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Rick Warren against the Internal Revenue Service. The case took on added importance when the three-judge panel hearing it took up the issue of whether the entire notion of the housing allowance violates the Constitution by subsidizing religion and creating excessive entanglement between church and state.

The panel asked Erwin Chemerinsky, a professor at the University of Southern California Law School, to prepare a "friend of the court" brief on the legality of the practice. Chemerinsky, an outspoken critic of the clergy tax break, argued that the exemption is clearly unconstitutional.

Anticipating a ruling against the exemption, Congress rushed to pass legislation to protect ministers from being forced to pay an additional $500 million in annual taxes. President Bush signed the bill into law in May. Both sides in the lawsuit, joined by the Department of Justice, asked that the case be dismissed.

In their August ruling, the three-judge panel said Chemerinsky had not established grounds to continue in the lawsuit, but noted that he might want to file his own separate lawsuit as a taxpayer. …

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