Atheists have apparently lost faith in their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax-free parsonage allowance permitted under federal law.
The decision from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) comes after the Wisconsin-based organization earlier this year lost its challenge at the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Attorney Joe Davis of Becket, a religious liberty law firm representing several Chicago-area ministers in this case, says a decision in favor of the atheists would have resulted in a billion dollars in new taxes being imposed on churches and ministers across the country.
"The parsonage allowance … is a provision of the tax code that allows churches to provide tax-free housing to their ministers to allow [them] to live in the communities they serve," Davis explains. "The Freedom From Religion Foundation lost in the court of appeals and decided to cut their losses and not take their appeal to the United States Supreme Court."
The atheists claimed the parsonage allowance is unconstitutional and "uniquely privileges clergy." However, Becket says the federal tax code also covers secular employees who receive a housing allowance from an employer.
"Somebody could conceivably file a new suit in a different jurisdiction, but this is the law of the land as things stand right now," continues Davis. "The Seventh Circuit opinion was very persuasive, very powerful on the point that the parsonage allowance did not violate the Constitution – so I think any other lawsuit against it would be very likely to fail for exactly the same reasons that this one failed."
FFRF got a lower-court ruling in its favor in 2013 from Federal District Judge Barbara Crabb, the same judge who in 2010 ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.