The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) announced June 14 it would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court its March judicial loss.
The decision concluded the latest effort to gain nullification of the allowance that is part of a 65-year-old federal law.
The FFRF was not confident of its chances of winning its appeal given the current make-up of the high court, according to its news release.
A 1954 federal law permits churches to designate part of eligible ministers’ income as a housing allowance, enabling “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has interpreted “ministers of the gospel” to include leaders of other religious faiths.
In March, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled unanimously the clergy allowance does not violate the First Amendment clause that prohibits government establishment of religion. The decision — the second by the Seventh Circuit against FFRF — reversed a federal judge’s 2017 opinion that invalidated the allowance as a violation of the Establishment Clause.
GuideStone Financial Resources — the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity — expressed gratitude for the decision.
“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,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a news release.
“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 in the near-term about the housing allowance.”
Hawkins said GuideStone would 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.