About a year ago, I wrote about a new lawsuit filed by ADF on behalf of two churches in Mission, Kansas. The City of Mission had instituted a new tax that was assessed against all property owners, including churches, and that calculated the tax based on the number of trips in and out of the driveway of the property. The new assessment was dubbed the “driveway tax” and in the cases of churches was calculated in a most bizarre way. The City took the amount of seats in a church’s auditorium and multiplied each seat by 5.8 trips per seat per week. The driveway tax was assessed based on those total number of trips in and out of the driveway of the church. In reality, this was a tax on church attendance because it was based on how many times people attended church.
After the lawsuit was filed, the case got some good media attention. Fox News did a piece on the case which you can see here. The City made the decision to defend against the lawsuit and we went through a time of discovery where documents about the driveway tax were exchanged and depositions were taken. Shortly after we filed a motion for the court to decide the case without a trial, the City made the decision to stop fighting and to settle the case. The settlement exempts churches and other non-profit organizations from the driveway tax, something the City should have done in the first place.
The settlement is a great victory for the churches in Mission. The City of Mission had forgotten to respect the tax exemption given to churches and may have forgotten the reasons why churches have those exemptions in the first place. Churches are exempt for good reason. Churches provide benefits to the community in the services they provide to the poor and needy. In this respect, they “pay” more in how they minister to the community than they ever would in taxes. But churches also provide intangible benefits to the community of making good citizens. Churches are in the business of taking lives that are ruined, desperate, and headed for destruction of themselves and others around them and turning those lives around by the power of the Gospel. People who were hurting themselves and others around them through their actions now are contributing members of society because of the power of Christ working in their lives. The benefit to society from the ministry of churches is incalculable. For every dollar a church pays in taxes, there is one less dollar that a church cannot use to fulfill its mission to propagate the Gospel and reach out to the least among us. That’s why when governments tax churches they are in reality harming society by restricting the good work that churches do that benefit society.
The City of Mission forgot this important aspect and failed to treat the churches within its borders as vital partners in the community. Thankfully, the City has done the right thing in exempting churches from this new and bizarre tax. Other cities and counties need to know that churches are indispensable to an ordered and prosperous society. Taxing churches harms society. It’s like shooting your own foot before going on a journey of a thousand miles.
If you know of a similar situation where ADF might be able to help, please let us know at (800) TELL-ADF.