Since 1954 the Internal Revenue Code has recognized a so-called “parsonage exemption” for “ministers of the gospel” such that housing allowances they received from their congregations were not considered part of their taxable, disposable income.

The rationale for this exemption, of course, lies in the fact that parsonage allowances help congregations, who benefit from having their clergy close by, thus facilitating regular and easy interaction. Obviously, Jews who cannot drive on Shabbos and Yom Tov esepcially benefit from this exemption.

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A federal judge, though, recently declared that the parsonage exemption is unconstitutional, finding that “the point of the law was to assist a subset of religious groups.” So a broad coalition of major national Orthodox organizations last week joined in a friend of the court brief to a federal appeals court that is to review the district judge’s ruling.

The brief, written by noted constitutional lawyer Nathan Lewin and submitted by COLPA, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, was joined in by Agudas Harabbanim of the United States and Canada, Agudah Israel of America, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, the Rabbinical Council of America and Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools.

Of the many briefs filed in support of the challenged law, several by church groups and general religious freedom organizational advocates, the Lewin brief is the only one that focuses on the Jewish dimension and is an important statement of the Jewish interest in the retention of the challenged law.

It is also important to keep in mind that, as noted, the parsonage exemption has been around for more than 60 years. We see the effort to end it as reflective of a general movement nowadays to denigrate the place of religion in American life.

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