As I recently posted, there are very good reasons why churches should be tax exempt. One Nashville church, though, found that its attempts to reach out to the poor and needy in the community resulted in a very large property tax bill. Their case is an example of the increasing attacks on church tax exemption.
Christ Church Nashville is a large, vibrant congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. The church completed an addition to its church building in 2004. The addition was designed for the purpose of outreach to the community. It contained an indoor playground, a chapel, a café connected to a bookstore, and an indoor gymnasium with a fitness center. Christ Church’s desire in constructing these facilities was to become a gathering place for the community. The church reasoned that there were people surrounding its campus that would not normally come into a traditional church, so it sought to open itself to those people as a place of gathering and religious outreach.
The fitness center operated on a suggested donation of a very small amount, and immediately became a favorite place for youth in the community. It was staffed by a full-time pastor who saw many youth involved in drugs and destructive social behavior turn their lives over to Christ through the ministry of the fitness facility.
The café/bookstore was staffed by a full-time pastor and became a favorite place for many individuals in the community. Stories abound of people who sought refuge at the café and bookstore during difficult times in their lives. The pastor would counsel them, give them books from the bookstore to help them in their struggles, and even provide food free of charge to the hungry.
In 2007, a representative of the taxing authority toured the facility and made a determination that the café/bookstore and the fitness center were “retail” areas and should be taxed. The taxing authorities did not see these areas of the church for the mission-oriented areas they were. The church never made any money on either the fitness center or the café/bookstore. In fact, the church gave away much more than it took in. And for good reason – these areas were not moneymakers for the church. They were ways to reach out to the community to share the love of Christ with those in the vicinity of the church. Yet because the taxing authorities refused to see the value of what the church was doing, they slapped the church with tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes.
The church appealed the taxes and is being represented by ADF. This case is important because it represents a direct attack on the tax-exempt status of a church that wanted to reach out beyond the four walls of the church to draw in the community. The government should not be allowed to tax churches simply because it thinks, in its own judgment, that a church is not fulfilling a religious mission or purpose.
We continue to fight on behalf of Christ Church Nashville to protect it from arbitrary taxation. If your church is facing something similar, or you know of a church that is, please contact ADF. We stand ready to defend the Church’s right to be free from taxation—free of charge.