Acton Loses State and Local Tax Exemption

Well this is an interesting development, though I don’t know that it’s really legitimate. The Acton Institute, a Christian right organization in Grand Rapids, has lost its state and local tax exemption as a non-profit, though it is still recognized at the federal level.

What may be a recognized nonprofit at the federal level may not meet the standards of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a nonprofit think tank that, according to its website, organizes “seminars aimed at educating religious leaders of all denominations, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers in economics principles, and in the connection that can exist between virtue and economic thinking.”

According to Grand Rapids city assessor Scott Engerson in a rejection letter to the Institute, Acton “does not meet nonprofit charitable requirements according to case law.” Expanding on Engerson’s comment, Grand Rapids city attorney Catherine Mish stated in an online comment, “Acton does not qualify as a nonprofit educational institution under state property tax law because it’s not part of educational system that’s provided by the state and supported by public funds.”

Acton’s executive director, Kris Mauren, said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the city assessor’s ruling, but we are confident that our appeal will be successful. Not only has Acton been successfully operating as a nonprofit since it’s founding in Grand Rapids in 1990, but our local educational, research and community outreach during these nearly 25 years has been extensive and growing.”

I haven’t seen any of the actual data used to justify this decision, but in general the definition of an educational non-profit is very broad. It’s hard for me to imagine that they don’t meet it. This is the same group that held that panel discussion on religious diversity recently that included only three Calvinists. I’ll be curious to see what happens to this on appeal.

"Yep. Principally raking in a nice fat paycheck for hauling the party line."

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  • Wylann

    Maybe the advocated for the wrong politician or something….

  • Gregory in Seattle

    “… seminars aimed at educating religious leaders of all denominations”

    The endorse BOTH kinds of Christian: evangelicals AND fundamentalists!

  • jameshanley

    Acton does not qualify as a nonprofit educational institution under state property tax law because it’s not part of educational system that’s provided by the state and supported by public funds.”

    That would seem to exclude any private entity, which surely can’t be right.

    I suspect they qualify for non-profit status and will rightly win an appeal, but I despise these Christian groups that link Christianity and particular economic or governing systems. It’s like they can’t read their own damn holy books.

  • Raging Bee

    Yeah, Hanley, I’m sure you’re the expert, both at making a religion out of a particular economic system, and at basing one’s actions on a “holy book” one hasn’t bothered to read.

  • dingojack

    I’ll bet it would never happen if it were the Cook County Assessor.


  • SC (Salty Current), OM

    An aside not meant to speak to this decision:

    Acton is more than a simple Christian right organization. They’re part of the Atlas network. Atlas is the organization through which the Templeton Foundation distributes its “Freedom” awards, of which Acton has won at least five (including one conjointly with another organization in the Latin American rightwing network for their neoliberal destabilization work against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela).* They were also involved with the Islamophobic propaganda film shown to NYC police officers in 2010.

    *That’s how Templeton operates: they fund organizations and their activities and then promote them with big awards for engaging in those activities. Their board also routinely gives large grants and awards to themselves. It’s probably the most openly incestuous organization I’ve ever seen. They don’t really try to hide it, but to the extent that it’s not recognized, people might be led to think these rightwing operations and studies are independent and “grassroots.” It’s likely that most of Acton’s funding comes from Templeton directly or indirectly.