There has been an important development this month in the most recent court challenge to the minister's housing exclusion brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
The federal government, who has the responsibility for defending this provision of the tax code, made its first filing in the case, and in doing so, conceded that based on its understanding of the facts FFRF has the legal standing required to challenge the housing allowance exclusion (while maintaining there is no standing to challenge the exclusion for parsonages).
While this is simply a procedural update—there has been no decision by the court on the merits—it is an important one. FFRF's previous attack on the housing allowance was ultimately rejected by the appeals court based on standing.
With standing now conceded by the federal government in this case, an important barrier has been removed to allowing FFRF to proceed for the time being with its latest challenge to the housing allowance at the federal district court level.
Under current law (Internal Revenue Code, § 107), qualified ministers may exclude from income tax, within certain limits, the rental value of church-provided housing or housing allowances for ministers owning or renting their homes. FFRF charges the law unconstitutionally provides "preferential and discriminatory tax benefits" and violates equal protection principles.
This attack on the housing exclusion is just the latest attempt by FFRF, a group which describes itself as a promoter of nontheism and separation between religion and government.
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