(Baptist Press) A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances is unconstitutional (see Baptist Press story posted Nov. 25). In her ruling U.S. District Court Judge Crabb claims, "Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility."
Despite the judge's claim, appealing to "equality" is not enough to make the action non-hostile toward religion nor is it in line with previous court decisions. Not only has the Supreme Court previously stated that the Establishment Clause prohibits hostility against religion as much as it prohibits the establishment of a state religion, it has also noted that its "precedents plainly contemplate that on occasion some advancement of religion will result from governmental action."
But aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people -- whether religious or not -- are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?
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