An atheist group has dropped its attempt to strip American pastors of their tax exemption for housing.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation will not appeal an appeals court decision that said the federal government is allowed to exempt priests, pastors, rabbis, and other religious instructors from paying taxes on the housing they receive, ending an eight-year legal battle. The suit threatened to cost clergymen $1 billion if successful, but Chicago’s Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the foundation argument that such a tax break violated the Constitution’s establishment clause. The three judge panel, citing previous Supreme Court rulings, found that, “Providing a tax exemption does not ‘connote sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the [government] in religious activity.'”
“Its principal effect is neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion, and it does not cause excessive government entanglement,” the court ruled unanimously in March.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation had until Thursday evening to appeal the suit to the Supreme Court, but allowed it to expire rather than challenge the ruling further. The foundation filed the suit after several officers attempted to have their own income exempted and argued they were discriminated against when they failed to qualify as a minister. Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon that the foundation stands by the merits of the suit. She blamed the make-up of the Supreme Court following President Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh for the decision to not pursue the case further.
“We have full confidence in the legal merits of our challenge of the discriminatory pastoral housing allowance privileges,” Gaylor said. “We did not, however, have confidence in the current Supreme Court.”
The Appeals Court faulted the foundation for failing to provide historical evidence demonstrating that any tax break should be seen as a government endorsement of religion. State and local governments in the United States have been giving churches tax exemptions out of deference to their charitable missions, and the federal government began adopting such policies as early as 1802, according to the court. more here