CATHOLIC ACTION LEAGUE WARNS OF DANGER TO RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS IN TAX CASE BEFORE MASSACHUSETTS SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT
Attleboro MA Wants to Tax Catholic Shrine Property
[Hat-tip to Brian Kelly of the St. Benedict Center (Richmond, NH) at catholicism.org/attleboro-ma-wants-to-tax-catholic-shrine-property.html ]
Catholic Action League of Massachusetts
April 5, 2016
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts today is warning of the danger to the economic autonomy of religious institutions in the Commonwealth because of a tax case being heard this morning before the Supreme Judicial Court. In Shrine of Our Lady of LaSallette v. Board of Assessors of Attleboro, the popular Catholic shrine—administered by the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSallette—is appealing the decision of the City of Attleboro to levy property taxes on a portion of the land owned by the religious order.
Attleboro assessors claim that a visitors center and maintenance shed attached to the shrine are not being used for a religious purpose, and therefore, are not tax exempt. As the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board upheld the city’s claim, the case now goes before the state’s highest court.
The Catholic Action League is calling the city’s attempt to arbitrarily divide the shrine’s property for tax collection purposes “a novel and unheard of interpretation of law, which will result in a dangerous and unprecedented expansion of state power, allowing municipal bureaucrats to decide which portion of religiously owned land comprises part of a religious ministry.”
Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle made the following comment: “Chief Justice John Marshall famously warned that ‘the power to tax involves the power to destroy.’ If Attleboro prevails, then the tax exempt status of religious property, instead of being an insurmountable barrier against state interference—consistent with the free exercise guarantees found in both the U. S. and Massachusetts constitutions—will now become a point of negotiation between religious organizations and local government.”
“Government will now have an economic incentive towards defining down religious activity to worship, imperiling the ability of religious institutions to carry on their educational and charitable apostolates.The danger to religious freedom is manifest.”
“Empowering local government officials to decide what constitutes part of a religious ministry is, precisely, the kind of slippery slope—‘excessive government entanglement’—with religion prohibited by the U. S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman. Historically, many Catholic monasteries have supported themselves by operating farms, dairies and vineyards. If these can now be taxed, then the government can, effectively, shut down entire religious institutions by destroying their economic viability.”
“The Massachusetts Council of Churches is correct in its statement that ‘this conversation happens at the property line.’ The Supreme Judicial Court should find in favor of religious independence from state interference.”