Rendering unto Caesar? Arizona church being taxed out of existence
Attorney sound bite: Erik Stanley
PHOENIX — Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley will be available for media interviews following his oral argument Tuesday at the Arizona Court of Appeals in defense of a church facing an illegally assessed property tax bill that would force it to shut down.
“Churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government, but this church truly is in fear of losing everything because of the assessor’s unlawful actions,” said Stanley. “Even the Arizona Department of Revenue has provided a letter stating that the church should owe nothing in taxes for the years 2006 and later. The county has levied taxes anyway, so we have been forced to go to court to have this matter resolved.”
An Arizona Tax Court said the church should have paid the tax bill before challenging it as illegal; however, Stanley will argue on appeal that state law does not require the church to do so when it is challenging an illegally assessed tax so high that the congregation can’t pay the bill and ask for a refund later. The tax bill of roughly $50,000 is approximately equal to the church’s entire annual budget. Paying the tax before filing suit would have required the church to close its doors, sell off its assets, and end its ministry.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit against La Paz County in March 2011 after the state of Arizona agreed that the church does not owe the tax but the county nonetheless continued to assess it.
The bill has resulted in a tax lien on the church’s property which could result in foreclosure and an end to the church’s ministry, including its outreach to the needy–a program praised by the Quartzsite mayor, town manager, and police chief.
Under state law, the church qualified for an exemption from property taxes and filed the appropriate paperwork with the La Paz County property assessor. The assessor sat on the church’s paperwork for three years before granting a tax exemptionand then only granted it for the years 2009 and later, leaving the church with back-taxes for 2006-2008 that it should not owe.
- Fact sheet on the case
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