On Nov. 22, 2013, a federal district court judge in Wisconson struck down the ministerial housing allowance as an unconstitutional preference for religion. The exemption for the fair rental value of a parsonage provided by the church was not challenged in this particular case, and therefore the parsonage exclusion remains intact.
The take-away here is the ruling will not take effect until the conclusion of any appeals to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. An appeal by the IRS and Department of the Treasury could take up to a year to resolve.
A ruling by a federal district court judge in Wisconsin is not binding on other courts, and does not apply to ministers in other states. If the ruling is appealed and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it will apply to ministers in that circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). It would become a national precedent binding on ministers in all states only if affirmed by the United States Supreme Court (an unlikely outcome). As a result, churches should continue to designate housing allowances for ministerial employees for 2014, and church pension plans should continue to designate housing allowances for retired ministers.
Clergy Tax Professionals will continue to keep you updated as this case proceeds through appeals and the ramifications of the outcome to clergy and churches.