Thursday, May 01, 2014

Bill Would Eliminate Constitutional Problems With Parsonage Allowance

As previously reported, an appeal has been taken to the 7th Circuit in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Lew, in which a Wisconsin federal district court held that the tax code provision excluding a minister's parsonage allowance from gross income violates the Establishment Clause because it benefits religious persons but not others. The appeal has drawn a number of amicus briefs from religious organizations across the spectrum. (Links to briefs and other documents.) On Monday, Louisiana Representative Bill Cassidy introduced a bill into Congress which, if enacted, would presumably remove the constitutional problems with the parsonage allowance. (Cassidy press release.)  H.R. 4493 provides that Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code that grants the parsonage allowance to any "minister of the gospel"-- a term already interpreted by the courts to include non-Christian clergy as well-- is amended to add:
For purposes of this section, the term `minister of the gospel' includes any duly recognized official of a religious, spiritual, moral, or ethical organization (whether theistic or not).
So far, the bill has no co-sponsors and hearings on it have not been scheduled.  The progress (if any) of the bill through Congress can be followed here. [Thanks to Robert Baty for the lead.]