Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, welcomed a decision by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a law providing rabbis, pastors and other clergy tax-free housing allowances.
A lawsuit first brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2013, asserted that the 64-year-old tax provision was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Orthodox Union joined with other Orthodox and partner organizations to defend the constitutionality of the federal tax code’s “parsonage” allowance for clergy through a “Friend of the Court” brief.
The decision late Friday reverses a lower court’s ruling in which clergy and congregations in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, which fall under the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh District’s jurisdiction would initially have been affected. An unfavorable ruling would have ultimately hurt hundreds of thousands of clergy and congregations across the country that have long relied on the vital tax exemptions: In the United States, 81 percent of full-time senior clergy receive a housing allowance, as do 75 percent of associate clergy and 67 percent of full-time solo clergy
Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy stated:
“Congregations across the country have relied on the clergy housing allowance for decades to help recruit and compensate their clergy. It is one of many tax code provisions that subsidizes the housing costs of people who must live in certain geographic locations for the sake of their jobs. Without this assistance, many synagogues, churches and other houses of worship would not be able to keep their doors open to serve their congregations and their surrounding communities.”
Orthodox Union President Mark (Moishe) Bane stated:
“We commend the court’s decision to uphold the “parsonage” allowance for clergy. Since the observance of the Jewish faith prohibits the use of transportation on the Sabbath and most Jewish holidays, congregational rabbis must reside within walking distance of their synagogues in order to serve their communities. Moreover, clergy of all faiths are often “on-call” around the clock to serve their congregants. They should not be penalized for doing so; nor should they be required to treat housing allowances provided by their congregations as disposable income.”