You may have heard the news over the weekend that a federal judge has ruled that an IRS exemption giving clergy tax-free housing allowances is unconstitutional. In the wake of this ruling, a lot of people have been asking why this exemption exists in the first place. Joe Carter has the best analysis that I’ve seen on the history and the rationale for the ministerial housing allowance. He notes that clergy are not the only ones who have received such exemptions.
The clergy, of course, were not the only ones to receive such an exemption. Congress included several categories of tax-free housing allowances to demonstrate a willingness to give tax breaks to classes of taxpayers who have little choice about their personal living space, such as members of the military, members of the Peace Corps, members of the Foreign Service, etc.
I’m no constitutional scholar, but this is the question that occurs to me. How can the government allow an exemption for secular groups while excluding religious groups precisely because they are religious?