Why faith leaders and the federal government will be in court this week defending the tax code

Oct 23, 2018

By Kelsey Dallas

SALT LAKE CITY — The Rev. Tuesday Jane Rupp’s new job came with an interesting perk: an invitation to live in an 181-year-old house. Like many faith communities, her new employer, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Woodbury, Connecticut, owns a parsonage and offers it to rectors as part of their compensation package.

“I had the option of living in it or receiving a housing allowance that would be financially equivalent,” she said. At her previous job in New York City, she took the allowance, which eased the burden of navigating the city’s pricey housing market.

Housing benefits help ensure clergy members can afford to live close to the churches they serve and reflect the congregation’s partial claim on the space. Pastors are often expected to treat their home like a second office and host scripture study groups or parties.

“So much of my work is location-based,” the Rev. Rupp said.

Because of these expectations, the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t tax ministers’ housing-related compensation, just as it doesn’t tax similar benefits offered to members of the military or foreign service. The current exemption has been in place since 1954, but its days could be numbered if a legal challenge from the Freedom From Religion Foundation succeeds.

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