Housing Allowance Decision Not Appealed to U.S. Supreme Court

Cleveland, TN–In another surprising move, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has decided not to seek United States Supreme Court review of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ March 15, 2019 unanimous decision, holding that the ministerial housing allowance did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Church of God International Offices and the Church of God Benefits Board – the administrator of the Ministers’ Retirement Plan – were very active, along with some 40 other denominations and retirement plans, in fighting for the ministerial housing allowance.

With the decision not to appeal to the Supreme Court, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has no other alternatives and the decision that the cash ministerial housing allowance does not violate the Constitution will stand unless challenged in another venue at some point in the future. Without taking action previously, the plaintiffs (FFRF) also let the deadline pass for seeking an en banc review of the case by all the judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the decision not to appeal to the Supreme Court ends a case that started in 2014, it is expected that the plaintiffs or a similar group will soon file a new lawsuit in another jurisdiction with the hopes of getting a more favorable decision. It would most likely take several years for a new lawsuit to work its way through the legal system.

In a press release announcing their decision not to appeal, the FFRR stated:

“After ‘counting heads,’ we concluded that any decision from the current court would put the kibosh on challenging the housing allowance for several generations. We began this challenge years ago, when the composition of the Supreme Court was very different. We have (secular) faith that someday the Supreme Court composition will again favor the Establishment Clause and be willing to scrutinize this preferential code and declare it unconstitutional. By ending our challenge at this time, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is making it possible for another challenge to be taken in the future, and we hope to be part of that.”

This case, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, only dealt with the “cash” ministerial housing allowance paid by churches whose pastors either rent or own their own homes, as well as ministers in retirement who are drawing from a “church” retirement plan, such as the Ministers’ Retirement Plan of the Church of God. The same challenge to the parsonage allowance (where a church provides a church-owned home for the pastor’s use) was dismissed early in the litigation due to a technical issue.

“I am excited to report that this case is over,” stated Arthur D. (Art) Rhodes, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Church of God Benefits Board, Inc. “There is no doubt that this is an incredible victory that only prayer could have brought about. While we took all the steps necessary to protect this important tax benefit for both active and retired ministers, and even filed a legal brief with the Court of Appeals, we give God the credit for the victory.”

Additional information on the litigation involving the ministerial housing allowance, along with a copy of the appellate court’s decision, can be found at https://www.benefitsboard.com/housing-allowance.

(Source: Church of God Benefits Board)

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