(SM Chavey, Liberty Headlines) A Baptist church in California is fighting the city of San Rafael for allegedly taxing it unjustly on its property, the Pacific Justice Institute said.
The Institute, which specializes in the defense of religious liberty, is suing San Rafael on behalf of Valley Baptist Church.
The Pacific Justice Institute claims the city’s tax is unconstitutional when applied to a church.
“The state constitution makes it very clear that such taxation must be based upon appraisal not based upon square footage and it also makes it clear that property taxes cannot be levied against religious institutions like this church…it’s very clear,” Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus said in a statement. “So we at the Pacific Justice Institute are committed to defending this church as far and long as we need to make sure religious institutions throughout the state of California do not get so treated as they have been treated by the city of San Rafael.”
The issue dates back to 2010, when San Rafael voters enacted the Special Tax via referendum by a two-thirds vote. The city’s municipal code allows the city to tax non-residential structures within city limits at a rate of up to 14 cents per square, 2 cents more than the current rate of 12 cents per square foot the city currently taxes structures.
The problem came to light when Valley Baptist Church received a $13,000 bill for unpaid taxes, allegedly owed pursuant to the special tax, Pacific Justice Institute said.
However, the church was supposed to be exempt from this type of rule, the Institute said. In California law, all taxes on real property are required to be ad valorem, meaning they must be levied in proportion to the property value of the building, which is done by assessment or appraisal.
In California, real property used for religious purposes is exempt from ad valorem taxation, according to the California Constitution.
The Pacific Justice Institute discovered this rule and used it to claim that Valley Baptist Church does not owe any money to the city — much less $13,000.
The church paid the bill as a condition of filing suit, but told the city they would be back to fight it.
The church is now trying to get the money back and to have the tax declared unconstitutional.
“The Special Tax is a de facto property tax because it triggers at duty on the part of owners of non-residential structures to pay the tax,” Dacus said in a written statement. “The California Constitution exempts churches from paying such taxes, pure and simple. Valley Baptist did not owe a penny to the City of San Rafael, and it’s unfortunate that the church has to go to court to win back money that it should never have had to pay to begin with.”
Churches and some other non-profits have traditionally been granted tax exemptions for the charitable work they bring to the community. Recently, that exemption has come under fire, causing churches like Valley Baptist to push back.
“This concept is being lost in our generation because, sadly, church membership has declined,” Dacus said. “People in government thus unfortunately assume that churches aren’t paying their ‘fair share’ without understanding why they’re tax exempt to begin with.”
It does not appear that San Rafael has released a public statement in response.Click here for reuse options!
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