• A Pennsylvania court ruled that a nonprofit corporation that published religious materials was not exempt from property taxes. The publisher (which was not affiliated with a church or denomination) publishes quarterly Bible study guides that it makes available for a suggested annual donation of $20. The court noted that the property of “purely public charities” is exempt from taxation under state law, and that an institution qualifies as a purely public charity only if it (1) advances a charitable purpose, (2) donates a substantial portion of its services, (3) benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity, (4) relieves the government of some of its burdens, and (5) operates entirely free from the private profit motive. The court concluded that the publisher failed to satisfy a number of these requirements. For example, only 14% of its materials were distributed without charge—too low to comprise a “substantial” portion of its total materials. Further, the court rejected the publisher’s claim that its operating deficits for the previous two years demonstrated that it operated on a nonprofit basis. The court observed that the deficits existed only because of large expenses labeled in the publisher’s financial statements simply as “other expenses.” When questioned about the nature of these expenses, the publisher’s president could not identify them. The court found this evidence insufficient to support the publisher’s contention that it operated without a profit motive. Finally, the court concluded that the publisher failed to demonstrate that it relieved the government of some of its burden. The publisher had emphasized that “our purpose is to introduce people to God through the Jewish Christian scriptures in such a way that they are made aware of the difference between right and wrong, and the importance of choosing the right, and in such a way that they are introduced to the importance of loving their neighbor and of fulfilling a responsible role in their families, their workplace, and in society.” While acknowledging that this indeed was a laudable objective, the court could not agree that the publisher was relieving a governmental burden, since the Constitution “prohibits the government from endorsing any religion.” Scripture Union v. Deitch, 572 A.2d 51 (Pa. Common. 1990).
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