A property tax exemption is not so much a special favor for churches as a way to protect the independence of religious institutions. When the government has the power to tax, it has the power to control.
In Wyoming County, the Independence Law Center, with assistance from attorney Lindsey Hoban of Ballard Spahr, obtained an important court victory on behalf of a small church in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. In the case, Northmoreland Baptist Church v. Wyoming County Board of Assessment Appeals and Revision of Taxes, the Wyoming County Common Pleas Court sided with the church, ruling that no part of the church building should be taxed.
In 2011, the church was assessed property tax on part of its building, contrary to Pennsylvania law and the longstanding tradition in our nation that churches should not be taxed. After appropriately appealing the tax with county authorities to no avail, the church leaders turned to the Independence Law Center for help, and now they have their victory.
In Warren County, House of Worship, a church in Warren, Pennsylvania, prevailed in a controversy over the taxation of its church building. The County revoked the church’s tax exemption in 2011, even though the property, previously used as a synagogue, had been tax exempt for nearly a century. The church appealed, arguing that churches and other places of religious worship are entitled to tax exemption under the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions and under state law.
House of Worship filed an appeal in December of 2011 and a Motion for Summary Judgment in October of 2012. The Court last week ordered that the property be exempt from taxation.