Press Release

Chicago pastors fight atheist effort to impose nearly $1B in taxes on churches Religious leaders tell appeals court that ending 64-year-old tax provision will devastate ministries nationwide

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Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pastor Chris Butler, a South Side Chicago pastor, asked a federal appeals court Thursday to end a discriminatory lawsuit that would devastate his community and subject churches across the country to almost $1 billion in new taxes. In Gaylor v. Mnuchinan atheist group is suing the IRS to end the parsonage allowance, a 64-year-old federal tax provision used by churches, mosques, and synagogues to help faith leaders live in the communities they serve.   

Pastor Chris Butler is the leader of a predominantly African-American congregation, whose ministry includes mentoring at-risk youth, decreasing neighborhood crime, and caring for the homeless in Chicago’s neediest neighborhoods. Ending the housing allowance for faith leaders like Pastor Chris would discriminate against religious groups by treating them worse than many other secular employees who receive similar tax treatment. It would also harm poor communities by diverting scarce resources away from essential ministries. It could even force some small churches to close (learn more in this 3-min. video).    

“For the majority of churches, the pastors are like me and experience at some level the same problems that we’re trying to face in the community,” said Pastor Chris Butler of the Chicago Embassy Church. “If you take away even a little bit, it can become a lot of trouble quickly.”

For over 60 years, the federal tax code has allowed pastors, rabbis, imams, and other faith leaders to receive tax-free housing allowances under the same tax principle that allows teachers, business leaders, military service members and hundreds of thousands of other workers to receive tax-free housing for their jobs. But in 2011 the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the IRS, demanding it end the tax exemption for faith leaders, saying it violates the Constitution. But the IRS would be discriminating against religious groups if it ended their housing allowance when so many secular businesses and organizations receive similar tax treatment. 

“The same group of atheists claimed it was unconstitutional to put Mother Teresa on a postage stamp, so it’s no surprise they’re trying to sic the IRS on churches,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket. “Treating ministers like other professionals isn’t an establishment of religion; it’s fair tax treatment.”  

Becket intervened in the case in January 2017 on behalf of Pastor Chris Butler and Bishop Edward Peecher of Chicago Embassy Church, Father Patrick Malone of Holy Cross Anglican Church, and the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Chicago-based Seventh Circuit is expected to hear oral argument and issue a decision later this year. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea aor 202-349-7224.Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. 

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court.For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, includingBuddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians(read more here).