Housing Allowance Appeal • FEMA Aid • Church Financial Trends: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    Housing Allowance Appeal • FEMA Aid • Church Financial Trends: News Roundup
    Image: Terrah Holly / Unsplash

    Pastors Appeal Housing Allowance Ruling. “Religious leaders of all faiths are fighting for equal treatment while serving some of the nation’s poorest communities. In Gaylor v. Mnuchin, an atheist-led lawsuit threatens a 64-year-old tax provision that enables pastors, rabbis, imams, and other faith leaders to live in the communities they serve. Represented by Becket, pastors on the South Side of Chicago and other religious leaders today appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, after a ruling last year authorized almost $1 billion in new taxes each year on them and other houses of worship across the country. . . . For over 60 years, the federal tax code has allowed pastors, rabbis, imams, and other faith leaders to receive housing allowances that are not taxed as income—just like military service members, overseas workers, and thousands of other professionals. But in April 2016, the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the IRS to deny this treatment to ministers alone. On October 6, 2017, a federal district court ruled that housing allowances for ministers unconstitutionally establishes religion, breaking with nearly 70 years of precedent and threatening ministers with almost $1 billion in new taxes each year” (“Chicago pastors appeal $1 billion in new taxes on churches,” BecketLaw.org).

    What if the housing allowance were to go away? This article offers ways churches can prepare.

    Budget Agreement Includes FEMA Provisions for Churches. “The [Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018] . . . includes provisions assuring that houses of worship will be able to receive disaster assistance from FEMA. The Stafford Act, Sec. 42 USC Sec. 5172 allows federal assistance for repair or replacement of non-profit facilities damaged or destroyed by major disasters. However, until a recent policy change by FEMA, houses of worship were excluded. (See prior posting.) The bipartisan budget bill (Sec. 20604 at pg. 48) adds the following: . . . ‘A church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship, educational facility, or any other private nonprofit facility, shall be eligible for contributions under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility’” (“Senate’s Bipartisan Budget Agreement Will Assure FEMA Assistance for Houses of Worship,” Religion Clause).

    How can churches work alongside government agencies amidst disasters? Read this interview with the former head of FEMA to find out more.

    Research Shows Financial Stability in Churches. “Church collection plates were a little bit fuller last fall, according to Nashville-based LifeWay Research. About 40 percent of Protestant pastors say their churches received more offerings in 2017 than in 2016. Three-quarters say their church met or exceeded budget. And only about a third say the economy gave their church trouble. Those are among the findings of a new report from LifeWay Research, based on a survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors. LifeWay Research has tracked the impact of the economy on churches since 2009, said Scott McConnell, executive director, and this is the first time the majority of pastors said the economy isn’t troubling their church. ‘The past decade has been difficult for many church budgets,’ said McConnell. ‘But things seem to be looking up.’ At the height of the Great Recession in 2010, LifeWay Research found most pastors (80 percent) said the economy had a negative effect on the church budget. That dropped to 51 percent by March 2016. In the most recent survey—from the fall of 2017—35 percent of pastors say the economy has a negative impact on the church. Seventeen percent cite a positive impact, and 45 percent say no impact” (“Churches on Solid Ground as Economy Rebounds,” LifeWay Research).

    Dive into issues like budgeting, tax compliance, and more with our comprehensive Church Finance reference.

    Immigrant Takes Refuge in Church, Granted a One-Year Stay by ICE. “A 30-year-old father who took refuge in a Phoenix church to avoid deportation is allowed to come home. Jesus Berrones, who has been in the U.S. nearly all his life and has five American-born children, initially turned to a church in his hometown on Thursday after his request to immigration authorities extend his stay in the U.S.—where he has lived for 28 years—was denied, according to his lawyer. Now, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have granted Berrones a one-year stay, the agency said Monday [February 12]. . . . Berrones' 5-year-old son, who is battling leukemia, initially went with his father to the church, refusing to leave, said Berrones' wife, Sonia Berrones. ‘My children are scared, they’re terrified that their dad is going to be taken away,’ Sonia Berrones said earlier Monday” (“Undocumented dad can stay in US after taking refuge in church to avoid deportation, ICE says,” ABC News).

    Learn more about immigration issues and your church with this downloadable resource.

    Maryland Church Challenges Change to Zoning Code. “Yesterday a small church in Laurel, Maryland filed a federal lawsuit challenging a zoning code change that prevents it from using property it purchased for a non-profit coffee shop and house of worship. The complaint (full text) in Redemption Community Church v. City of Laurel, Maryland . . . alleges that the zoning changes violate its right under RLUIPA and the 1st Amendment. It alleges in part: ‘4. . . . the City changed its zoning code to ban non-profit businesses and to require small churches (those located on less than one acre) to go through an onerous, costly, and uncertain special exception process before locating in the C-V Zone’” (“Small Church Challenges Zoning Changes,” Religion Clause).

    Find out 11 things your church should know about zoning.

    We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news in the context of expert advice. For more regular updates, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

    Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

    This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

    Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.


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