Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – through its Institute for Public Affairs – welcomed the decision Monday by a federal appeals panel to dismiss a case questioning the constitutionality of a tax allowance for housing costs enjoyed by the nation’s clergy.
The suit claimed that the “parsonage allowance,” which allows clergy to deduct fair market housing costs from their federal taxes, was a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion. A three judge panel of the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had unilaterally ordered the I.R.S. and a Baptist Minister who were litigating whether the minister had claimed too much of a deduction on his taxes to present arguments to the court as to the provision’s constitutionality. In response to this unexpected threat to the longstanding parsonage exemption, the Orthodox Union joined with other faith-groups to file briefs with the court defending the parsonage provision and encouraged the U.S. Congress to enact legislation clarifying this provision’s parameters and thereby moot the litigation. Congress passed the legislation overwhelmingly and President Bush signed it into law in June.
Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, stated in reaction to the case’s dismissal that “the Orthodox Jewish community is very gratified that this episode is over. The parsonage provision is a very important element of America and we are gratified that its status will no longer be disrupted by pending litigation.”