Litigation challenging the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance has formally ended after the Freedom From Religion Foundation chose not to appeal a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The FFRF, which won a challenge to the housing allowance in a district court on December 31, 2017, lost during an appeal to the Seventh Circuit when a three-judge panel ruled unanimously to overturn the lower court’s decision. The minister’s housing allowance was codified in federal tax law in 1954.
GuideStone® Chief Legal Officer Harold R. Loftin Jr., who has monitored this and other challenges to the housing allowance, and attended the oral arguments before the Seventh Circuit panel in Chicago, praised the ending of the case. GuideStone has actively engaged in the various challenges to the housing allowance exclusion, filing amicus briefs alongside Southern Baptist and other denominational benefit plans and advocating with legislators and regulators.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation said that they believed given the composition of the Supreme Court that they could not prevail in the case,” Loftin said. “We believe that their case had no merit, regardless of the ideological makeup of the court, but regardless, are thankful that this matter has been put to rest for the time being.”
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins echoed Loftin’s sentiments.
“We are thankful for so many, including the U.S. Justice Department, that so ably argued on behalf of the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance,” Hawkins said. “It is our belief that had the case made it to the Supreme Court that the housing allowance would have been upheld as constitutional. Regardless, pastors and churches needn’t worry about in the near-term about the housing allowance."
“GuideStone will continue to monitor alongside our Southern Baptist family, and as part of a coalition of large and historic pension boards, both litigation and legislation related to the housing allowance to advocate on behalf of the pastors we are privileged to serve.”
In 2017, the Freedom From Religion Foundation won a district court ruling that declared the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. That decision was stayed, pending the resolution of all appeals. It was overturned early in March 2019. A similar ruling, made by the same judge in 2013, was overturned on appeal in 2014.
Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention®.