Atheists Drop Federal Suit Against Ministers

June 20, 2011

A group of atheists and anti-religionists have agreed to voluntarily dismiss a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of centuries-old tax exemptions for parsonages and other ministerial housing. Several weeks ago the defendants in this case filed motions to dismiss on the basis of standing in light of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, 131 S.Ct. 1436 (2011).  

The voluntary dismissal was filed today with the U.S. District Court in Sacramento. The plaintiffs, led by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and represented by atheist Michael Newdow, had not alleged that they had ever asked federal and state tax officials for the same treatment prior to filing suit and claiming favoritism toward religion.

Pacific Justice Institute represented a Sacramento pastor, on behalf of thousands of clergy throughout California, who would have been directly affected by a ruling in favor of the FFRF. The District Court initially denied PJI’s request to intervene in the case, holding that the IRS and Franchise Tax Board would adequately represent ministers’ interests. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed that decision last month, and PJI had been preparing to enter the case and present a staunch defense of the pastors.

PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider, who successfully argued PJI’s motion to intervene in the case at the Ninth Circuit, stated, “We are pleased that this case has been dismissed, but we have no illusions that the FFRF and its allies will abandon their attacks on the clergy. We will remain vigilant to protect the outstanding men and women who serve our faith communities, and we are prepared to counter any future court challenges of this nature.”

For the stipulation of dismissal, click here.

Source: Pacific Justice Institute, June 17, 2011

Source: Pacific Justice Institute, June 17, 2011

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