Tax Exemption Controversy • Background Checks • Ohio Sanctuary Church: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Tax Exemption Controversy • Background Checks • Ohio Sanctuary Church: News Roundup
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Madison Capital Building, Madison, WI

Wisconsin Church’s Potential Property Tax Exemption Stirs Controversy. “For years St. Raphael’s Parish has been fighting, and losing, a battle with the city of Madison over property taxes on the land at the corner of East Main and North Fairchild streets that once held its Cathedral. Now the church has an unnamed ally in the Legislature who slipped into the budget a tailor-made property tax exemption. But the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is considering a legal battle if the provision makes it through the final budget process. The budget amendment allows a property tax exemption for properties owned by ‘churches and religious associations' that intend to 'replace a building destroyed by fire, natural disaster, or criminal act.’ St. Raphael’s Cathedral at 204 W. Main St. fell victim to arson in 2005 and the parish has yet to replace it. Rather, it erected a ‘Way of the Cross,’ a pathway commemorating the 14 stations of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, to attach a religious purpose to the land” (“Property tax exemption for downtown Madison’s St. Raphael’s in Wisconsin budget draws fire,” The Capital Times).

Learn more about the history of church property tax-exemption in this podcast interview with Church Law & Tax editorial advisor Frank Sommerville.

Man Withdraws Acceptance of Church Music Director Role, Now Faces Child Exploitation Investigation. “A man who was supposed to start working for an Orlando church is now under federal investigation for possible child exploitation. Michael Wustrow, a music director from New York, accepted a position in Orlando but backed out before the Catholic Diocese of Orlando started looking into his past. Before diocese brings a new employee into a parish it runs a background check. ‘For that reason, I believe we catch things early on,’ parishioner Frances Tomcabage said. The precautionary step kept Wustrow from working in an Orlando church” (“Man nearly hired to work for Orlando church under investigation for child exploitation,” WFTV 9).

Our newly revised Reducing the Risk resource offers comprehensive guidance on screening and selection of potential candidates for ministry.

Ohio Church Provides Sanctuary for Immigrant Woman. “A church in Cleveland Heights announced plans on Tuesday to protect undocumented immigrants. Forest Hill Presbyterian Church officials say they'll allow an undocumented woman who is facing deportation, Leonor Garcia, and her family to live in the church. This is the first church to publicly announce a sanctuary state in Cuyahoga County. ‘I wanna stay here for my family. I wanna fight it. Because I want to be with my family,’ Garcia said in front of a crowd on the church steps. . . . ICE policies do say agents will avoid enforcement activity in . . . ‘sensitive areas.’ ICE spokesman, Khaalid Walls, sent the following statement: ‘Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances. The locations specified in the guidance include schools, places of worship, and hospitals.’ ‘This is one of the first churches in Ohio, if not the first, to actually announce this,’ attorney Margaret Wong said” (“Cleveland Heights church will allow woman facing deportation to seek sanctuary from the law,” News 5 Cleveland).

This downloadable resource can help your church navigate legal issues related to immigration and serve the immigrants in your congregation and community.

Court Dismisses Church Zoning Case. “In Life Covenant Church, Inc. v. Town of Colonie . . . a New York federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds a church's objections to conditions placed in the zoning approval for its construction of a new building. . . . The court held that the judicial challenge is not ripe because the church has not received a final decision on its request to the city that it amend its prior approval to eliminate the objectionable conditions” (“Church’s Objections to Zoning Conditions Dismissed on Ripeness Grounds,” Religion Clause).

Zoning often appears in the list of top reasons churches go to court each year. Find out what churches need to know about zoning in this article.

We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news in the context of expert advice. For more regular updates, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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