Wisconsin Clergy Housing Allowance Ruling

Updated April 30, 2018

The status of the clergy housing allowance continues to generate much discussion in the media and among clergy in all denominations.

On April 26, the Church Alliance – a coalition of the chief executive officers of 38 denominational benefit programs, including The Pension Boards-United Church of Christ – filed an amicus curiae brief in the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (Chicago), in the case challenging the constitutionality of the cash housing allowance exclusion for clergy.

The Church Alliance brief focuses on the jurisprudential history of permitted legislative accommodations of religion and brings to the court’s attention the particularly strong reliance interests that would render a change in the law on this point inappropriate and unjust.

The full text of the brief may be found here. Please also see the links below for additional information.


Updated March 23, 2018

In recent months, there has been a great deal of national media coverage, as well as conversation on social networks, concerning the October 6 decision by the Western District of Wisconsin that ruled the ministers’ cash housing allowance unconstitutional.

The judge specifically stated that her decision did not apply to housing that is provided to the clergy by their employers, which is allowed under Section 107(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. This provision has been in effect for over 30 years and is likely to stand on its own, and was not challenged in the court case.

At this point, the decision only applies to those counties in Wisconsin that are shown on this map. It has been appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the decision will most likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. No remedies have yet been imposed. It is expected that any remedies will be suspended until the case is finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. All remedies have been suspended until 180 days following the final decision of all appeals, including any appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Pension Boards is deeply concerned about the potential impact of this ruling on UCC authorized ministers. Together with our ecumenical colleagues, we will continue to advocate on behalf of clergy and church plans through the Core Lawyer Working Group of the Church Alliance. An appeal has been filed in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Church Alliance will file an amicus brief by the court's April 26 deadline.

For additional information, please see the links below.

Church Alliance Housing Allowance Case Q&A

Please click here for answers to frequently-asked questions about the housing allowance case.

Church Alliance Housing Allowance Case Update

On Friday, October 6, a federal district court judge ruled that the exclusion from taxation of a minister’s cash housing allowance is unconstitutional. The exclusion allows a minister to exclude from taxable income a cash housing allowance designated and paid by his or her church. The Church Alliance will continue to monitor the case. A summary of the case is available here.

5 Takeaways from the Clergy Housing Allowance Ruling

This article first appeared on ChristianityToday.com on October 10, 2017. Used by permission of Christianity Today, Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Editor’s Note: Last Friday, Judge Barbara Crabb of the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin struck down the ministerial housing allowance as an unconstitutional preference for religion. Senior Editor Richard R. Hammar offers five takeaways from this ruling, which churches and clergy nationwide should note now.

Please be assured that the Pension Boards is monitoring this situation closely and will keep members apprised of any new developments.