Monday, January 31, 2005
According to this article (thanks to Domenico Bettinelli), some officials in Lowell, Massachusetts believe that "local Catholic churches shuttered as part of the Archdiocese of Boston's parish consolidation process should no longer be exempt from city property taxes. . . . Last week, [city] councilors voted unanimously to prepare a schedule for assessing property taxes against eligible church buildings as soon as possible." Mayor Armand Mercier commented, "The taxpayers of Lowell have been subsidizing these tax-exempt entities and were very willing to do so because of the benefit of the churches toward the faithful," he said. "However, that's no longer the case, and the city of Lowell taxpayers should no longer be subsidizing these buildings."
What is interesting (to me) about this story, from a "legal theory" perspective, is what it reveals about the basis for churches' exemption from taxation. That is, Mayor Mercier's view is that the tax exemption is extended, as a matter of grace, to churches because and to the extent that these churches provide a public benefit that justifies the "subsidization" in question. Churches are not tax-exempt because of anything in constitutional law or political theory that either insulates churches from taxation or disables government from taxing them.