By Roy Hayhurst
DALLAS — The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court’s ruling that the minister’s housing allowance was unconstitutional. In the decision by the Chicago-based appeals court, it determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing to file the suit.
The appeals court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. The plaintiff’s only recourse would be to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The appeal was in response to a December 2013 decision by Wisconsin federal judge Barbara Crabb, who had declared the tax-free housing allowance unconstitutional. At the time of her ruling, she stayed the ruling, keeping it from taking effect, until the appeals process could run its course.
“This is indeed good news for ministers,” said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, which had filed an amicus brief in the case as part of a coalition of large and historic denominational pension boards. “Throughout the decades, there has been a recognition that the minister’s housing allowance is a vital benefit that is consistent with our constitution. We are thankful for the government’s defense of the housing allowance against this case and thankful to the appeals court for its decision in this matter.
“We are mindful that this might not be the last case of its type. Along with our partners at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and our ministry partners in the denominational benefits community, we will continue to remain vigilant to advocate on behalf of pastors.”
Roy Hayhurst is department head of Denominational and Public Relations Services for GuideStone Financial Resources.