MMBB Financial Services Signs Amicus Brief in Support of Housing Allowance

MMBB Financial Services signed onto an amicus curiae brief submitted by the Church Alliance, a coalition of the chief executive officers of 38 denominational benefit programs. The brief was filed in the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (Chicago) in the case challenging the constitutionality of the clergy housing exclusion under Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Code). You can find a copy of the Church Alliance brief here.

MMBB Financial Services Executive Director Louis P. Barbarin stated, “MMBB understands how important the housing allowance is to those who have pursued God’s call to ordained ministry. It provides crucial support to ministers who receive a modest compensation during both their active years of ministry and in retirement. For these reasons, MMBB signed onto the Church Alliance amicus curiae brief to defend the constitutionality of the housing allowance. We will continue to play a leadership role in the effort to protect this valuable benefit.”

The amicus brief was filed in the case Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., et al. v. Jacob Lew, et al. (FFRF v. Lew). The U.S. government is appealing a decision by Judge Barbara Crabb, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (November 2013) that Code §107(2) is unconstitutional.

Clergy Housing Exclusion

Code §107(2), commonly called “clergy housing exclusion” or “clergy housing allowance,” excludes from income taxation the cash compensation provided to “ministers of the gospel” (clergy) toward the cost of their housing. This section of the Code essentially excludes the value of clergy-owned housing from income taxation. It is related to Code §107(1), which excludes from a minister’s taxable income the value of church-provided housing (commonly called a parsonage, vicarage or manse). The FFRF v. Lew appeal does not involve a challenge to Code §107(1).

Judge Crabb ruled that Code §107(2) is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Judge Crabb stayed the effect of her ruling until all appeals are exhausted. The government’s opening brief was filed on April 2, 2014.

The Church Alliance brief adds a perspective not duplicated in the government’s brief. It focuses on the jurisprudential history of permitted legislative accommodations of religion. The brief argues that Code §107(2) is a constitutionally permitted accommodation of religion when viewed in the context of Code §107(1), the parsonage exclusion, and Code §119, which excludes employer-provided housing from employees’ incomes in numerous secular circumstances.

Religious Organizations Represented

MMBB Financial Services and the members of the Church Alliance stand with other religious organizations in their vested interest in the outcome of this litigation. The clergy housing exclusion is important to millions of active and retired clergy from the 38 Church Alliance-represented denominations, including, among others, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Church of the Nazarene, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Brothers Services, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Joint Retirement Board for Conservative Judaism, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reform Pension Board, Southern Baptist Convention, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church.

Numerous other churches, associations or conventions of churches, and other religious organizations with religious leaders eligible for the clergy housing exclusion under Code §107(2) are additional signers of the brief, supporting the filing of the Church Alliance’s brief and the positions advocated in it. They include the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Central Conference of American Rabbis, General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church, Moravian Church, Rabbinical Assembly, Salvation Army, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Wisconsin Council of Churches, among others.