Clergy Housing Allowance Ruled Constitutional

03.21.2019 Written by: Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd.

Clergy Housing Allowance Ruled Constitutional

Last Friday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the clergy housing allowance does not violate the First Amendment’s anti-establishment clause. The Court decided the effect of the statute establishing the clergy housing allowance is “neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion and it does not cause excessive government entanglement.” This decision is an important victory for Church clergy that seemingly decreases the chances of the clergy housing allowance being ruled unconstitutional.

This ruling was handed down in an appeal of a 2017 Wisconsin Federal District Court decision that ruled the clergy housing allowance violates the First Amendment to U.S. Constitution that prohibits government actions to establish religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion. While this decision was effective only in the western district of Wisconsin and enforcement of the decision was stayed pending appeal, there has been much concern about this case’s threat to this 64 year old tax break that the Joint Committee on Taxation once estimated is worth about $700 million a year. In addition to the religious freedom aspects of the District Court decision, many denominations and churches were worried about the adverse effect the decision would have on clergy and financially challenged churches.

While this Court of Appeals ruling is welcome to many of our clients, keep in mind this may not be the final judicial word on the constitutionality of the clergy housing allowance. The now unsuccessful plaintiff in this case may ask the full Seventh Circuit Court to review the panel’s decision and could ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the Circuit’s decision.

     

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Henningson & Snoxell Ltd. family law attorney Tifanne E. E. Wolter  recently successfully defended her client, the Appellant-wife, before the Minnesota Court of Appeals in a divorce case on appeal from the Anoka County District Court. At issue were child custody, parenting time, spousal maintenance, property division, and attorney fees. The Court of Appeals found that the District Court’s findings on these issues were not supported by the record, and because the resolution of other issues was contingent on those erroneous determinations, the Court of Appeals’ Judge Rodenberg (Presiding Judge), Judge Larkin and Judge Hooten reversed the amended judgment and decree of dissolution, except insofar as it dissolved the marriage, and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings.

Tifanne, a seasoned family law attorney, has more than 14 years of legal experience. She concentrates her practice exclusively in the area of Family Law and Divorce and handles numerous family law matters involving divorce, paternity, custody, parenting time, post dissolution, child support, spousal maintenance, prenuptial/antenuptial agreements, and third party custody. Tifanne is certified in Dispute Resolution by Hamline University School of Law. She has a 10.0 Superb Rating as a Top Family Attorney from AVVO directory service and was selected as a Rising Star in Minnesota law by Super Lawyers, 2014-2016 Editions. Tifanne is admitted to practice law in Minnesota state court and the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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