The debate over whether the government should continue to offer a housing allowance for clergy is a decision that is coming up on federal appeal.
For decades, pastors have been able to receive housing allowances as part of their job.
Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Beckett law firm, pointed out that these allowances are not taxed as income.
"This law applies not just to ministers, but to lots of other professionals, and this lawsuit is an attack by an atheist group trying to take away housing allowances only from ministers,” Goodrich explained. “The bottom line is that if this lawsuit succeeds, churches and ministers across the country face an extra $1 billion taxes in every year."
The atheist group waging the attack on clergy is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which brought and won a federal lawsuit in its home state of Wisconsin.
"We have now appealed the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – which is based in Chicago – and after that, the case will head to the U.S. Supreme Court," Goodrich announced. "The atheist group in this lawsuit is arguing that those sorts of housing allowances should be denied only to ministers because they believe that any sort of fair tax treatment of ministers is a form of establishing religion under the First Amendment of the Constitution, but our argument is that treating ministers like all kinds of other professionals is not at all unconstitutional – it is actually what the Constitution requires."
Arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled for Wednesday, October 24.
In a related video produced by Becket, the law firm revealed that America's religious communities fund more than 1.5 million social programs, with over 7.5 million volunteers.
"The $1 billion threat could devastate these vital community programs," Goodrich warned.