PJI Moves to Intervene in Lawsuit Attacking Ministers’ Housing Allowances

Sacramento, CA – Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute has filed court papers last week to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed October 16th by well-known atheist Michael Newdow. The lawsuit challenges long-standing federal and state tax exemptions for housing allowances provided by churches and religious institutions to members of the clergy.

PJI is currently facing off with Newdow in two other lawsuits, both in the federal courts of appeal. In one case, he is asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to order that the national motto, “In God We Trust,” be stricken from our nation’s coins. In a second lawsuit defended by PJI, Newdow is asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to have prayers and the phrase “So help me God” at presidential inaugurations declared unconstitutional. Newdow is also behind a long-running lawsuit against recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

In the new case, Newdow represents the Freedom From Religion Foundation and several of its members. They are claiming that provisions of federal and state law that have for decades permitted tax-exempt housing allowances for ministers are unconstitutional. For most churches, a housing allowance has taken the place of providing a home or parsonage to augment pastors’ often meager salaries. Pacific Justice Institute is assembling a broad, perse coalition of local ministers who would be directly affected if the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs. PJI filed a motion to intervene late last week.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “Just in time for Halloween, radical anti-religionists are unleashing their favorite scare tactic: a federal lawsuit, this time directly attacking ministers. It is unfortunate that these chronic litigants fail to see the invaluable community services provided by members of the clergy. Ministers of many faiths are dependent on the housing allowance to supplement their meager salaries. We will not stand by and let anti-religious ghouls threaten yet another American tradition.”