An atheist group that lost its battle in the courts has decided to give up its demand for churches to face new taxes that were estimated to have been in the $1 billion range.
The fight focused on the longstanding tax exemption for housing allowances for clergy including pastors, rabbis and imams, and the Becket Fund, whose lawyers waged the war, confirmed the “atheist group” gave up this week by declining to appeal its latest court loss to the Supreme Court.
“This is a victory for all houses of worship that serve needy communities across the country,” Pastor Chris Butler of Chicago Embassy Church said in a statement released by Beckett. “I am grateful that my church can still be a home for South Side Chicago’s at-risk youth, single mothers, unemployed, homeless, addicted, victims of gang violence and others on the streets.”
He leads a predominantly African-American congregation that ministers to Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, and his church cannot pay him a full salary.
But it offers a small housing allowance so that he can live near church members and in the community he serves.
“For over 60 years, federal law has recognized that ministers’ housing allowances shouldn’t be taxed as income under the same tax principle that exempts housing allowances for hundreds of thousands of secular workers – including teachers, business leaders, military service members, and many more. This tax exemption also keeps the IRS from becoming entangled in religious matters,” Becket reported.
Becket senior counsel Luke Goodrich, said, “The court rightly recognized that providing this kind of equal treatment to churches is perfectly constitutional, and churches should be allowed to serve the neediest members of their communities without the tax man breathing down their necks.”
See a video that explains the fight:
The “atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation” sued the IRS in 2016 to end the parsonage allowance, Becket said. It wanted the IRS to start imposing nearly $1 billion in new taxes per year on churches nationwide.
Earlier this year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the churches, reversing a district judge’s opinion that the allowance was unconstitutional.
WND reported when Judge Barbara Crabb, who has a reputation for hostility to faith, ordered such a benefit allowable for secular employees but not religious ministers.