Church Commits Tax Fraud… and the Christian Post Blames Atheists for Pointing It Out

Remember a couple months ago when the Freedom From Religion Foundation put this billboard (and several others) up in Columbus, Ohio?

Matrix Media Services, working with Clear Channel, placed that particular billboard in a location that turned out to be on Christ Cathedral Church’s property.

If it was public property, then there should have been no reason to remove the billboard. But since the church owned the space (and rented it out to the billboard company), the billboard went to a new location.

But that raised another question: If the church owned the property, and they were leasing it out (and making money off of it), shouldn’t they have to pay property taxes?

FFRF looked into the issue… and they couldn’t find any evidence that the church had done that. So they asked Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo II to investigate the matter.

Mingo couldn’t find any record of it, either.

A few days later, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott got a phone call from a member of Mingo’s staff. “He said that the billboard property will be taxed. It is approximately one-tenth of an acre that will be taxed at a yearly rate of $185,” said Elliott.

FFRF further inquired in an Aug. 1 letter to Mingo about the church-owned property at 407 Stelzer Road that is directly behind the billboard. It was purchased in 2006 for $550,000 and is receiving a tax exemption. Several private businesses are leasing most of the building.

Teach & Learn Child Care, AMC Realty and AMC Transport, all with listed addresses at 407 Stelzer Road, are headed by Anthony Malone. FFRF does not know how Pastor Malone and Anthony Malone are related.

On Sept. 22, FFRF received confirmation that the property will now be fully taxed in 2011.

In summary, the church now owes $1,900 in back taxes (including penalties for not paying it earlier). And they are expected to pay another $18,000 this year.

How did the Christian Post report on this story?

Instead of blaming the church for doing something illegal, contributor Joseph Perkins blamed FFRF for pointing it out. Just look at the language he uses — and the headline assigned to the piece:

But the atheist organization, based in Madison, Wisc., found another way to attack the church. It sicked the Franklin County, Ohio Auditor’s Office on Christ Cathedral, claiming that the church was required to pay property taxes on the land on which the billboard stood, because it was used for commercial purposes.

Although it would seem that the out-of-state organization would have no legal standing to bring a tax claim against the Ohio church, Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo sided with the atheists.

So Christ Cathedral Church now finds itself liable for roughly $20,000 in commercial property taxes, as FFRF gloats on its website.

Perkins even engaged in some race-baiting — which is completely uncalled for, considering FFRF had nothing to do with the placement of the individual billboards:

It seemed more than coincidental to some that the pictured atheist student was black, just like Christ Cathedral’s pastor.

That suggested to some that FFRF is taking its crusade against religion – which heretofore has concentrated on the white evangelical community –- to the black church.

Whether that is the case or not did not matter to the Rev. Waymon Malone, Christ Cathedral’s pastor…

To paraphrase: Some people thought FFRF was being racist… even if that’s not substantiated by any evidence.

No one was “attacking” the church. The leaders at Christ Cathedral Church brought this upon themselves by committing tax fraud. Since they don’t know how to do the ethical thing and pay the taxes they owe, and since no one in the Christian community was willing to expose them or even look into the matter, then it’s a good thing an atheist group was there to call them out on it.

I love this soundbyte from FFRF’s Annie Laurie Gaylor:

“Apparently this church doesn’t heed the scriptural advice in Matthew 22:21 ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’ ” noted FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The best part about all this? The church was so outraged by a message that said atheists could be “good without god,” that they demanded the billboard be removed from their property… and the whole plan backfired on them. If they had simply accepted the message and kept their mouths shut, odds are they would’ve gone completely under the radar regarding their tax evasion.

(Thanks to Rich for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jake

    Butthurt much, Christian Post?

  • Nome

    ha ha… I just have to laugh.

    • Anonymous

      Only because the other option is to cry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Whenever a believer tells me that I’m discussing a “caricature” of religion or that “nobody really thinks that way” I always think of the Christian Post.

  • Botait

    Oh the comments on that site are ridiculous. I am hoping that there are more Christians that actually see the church as being in the wrong here, but just aren’t willing to post their opinion online. If the comments actually represent the majority of thinking…..North America is in more trouble than I thought.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      The CP is filled with the kind of christians that we are told do not exist. The unsophisticated unnuanced christianity that is a “straw man” or parody.

      Real believers, obviously, are far more thoughtful and considered. Perhaps all the commentors are secretly atheist sock puppets.

    • Rich Wilson

      As  I commented on CP, a few of the Christians there are the perfect example of why we NEED these billboards.  And no, we’re not going to convince any of them, but we might plant a seed for someone else.

      I think even the few who would begrudgingly admit there are good atheists sill insist it’s because our moral code came from God, and just don’t accept it.  It takes serious blinders to think your absolute moral code came from the same place as Deuteronomy/Leviticus.

  • Anonymous

    Now do you see why we have to be careful with the atheist-baby jokes?
    Someone might actually put up a headline like “Atheist groups advocate infantile cannibalism”. :-D
    These people don’t have the words sarcasm and irony in their dictionaries.

  • Dynaboy

    Believe it or not, having to pay your fair share of taxes is simply considered another “attack on Christianity” and will further these folks persecution complex.

    • Anonymous

      Class warfare. It is just so unchristian anti-capitalist to tax anyone (including a corporate person) that has money. Next they will tell us there is a loophole exempting from taxes those with no income and no assets.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      a “fair share” would be much higher.

    • Anonymous

      Not its fair share, but just the taxes that are owed under the laws of the State of Ohio. 

  • Susan Creamer

    Sigh… Counting to ten and going to my happy place…

  • Anonymous

    What business do churches have buying up property and then profiting from it by leasing it out to private companies with no connection to the church?  That seems a little ethically gray to me.

    • Anonymous

      Churches and ethics? Hahahaha

    • Anonymous

      Non-profits of all kinds buy investment properties.  Rental income is exempt from  Unrelated Business Income Tax, so it’s a good investment from a tax standpoint.  They still need to pay state and local property taxes though, which they weren’t doing.

  • Winkus

    Although atheists can be good without god–everyone can, they just haven’t realized it yet–apparently the leaders of the Christ Cathedral Church can’t be bad without karma. I frakkin’ love it!

  • Stephan Goodwin

    The Christian Post is a waste of time and bandwidth.  They might as well just merge with Fox News for all the news they accurately report.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    For the most part they seems to agree that it was wrong for the church not to be paying the taxes, but they really gloss over it big time. Their main concern is the idea that FFRF specifically chose the church as the spot for the billboard. They believe it’s too obvious to have just been a coincidence.

    I quite enjoy this post by Hunter Bonner:

    The taxes part is true, that the church should have been honest about it
    (did they know ahead of time that they would be liable for property
    taxes if used in this way?) None of us really knows the answer to that
    question, unless we goto that church and ask it. None of us are so that
    puts that one to bed.

    See how that gets glossed over? Okay okay the church should be paying the taxes, but they may not have known that and none of us can say they did so that can’t be discussed any further.

    But I think the overwhelming, and glaring thing that sticks out here is
    this. The odds of an atheist billboard being near a Christian Church,
    and said atheist organization not knowing or not planning such a thing,
    is more than just a bit coincidental.

    Not really. In Columbus, Ohio there’s a church every 2000 feet. It would be more unlikely for the billboard to not be near a church.

    So when the church has it
    removed, because they don’t want that message outside their church,
    confusing people, what happens? Atheists get all hot and bothered (as
    if they weren’t hot and bothered already at G-d and Christians already
    given who they are) and though to themselves
    “How can we get some revenge on these Christians?” It’s pretty obvious
    that’s this what it was. Couldn’t stand the idea of Christians winning
    one over the atheists, so they inacted revenge.

    This is my favorite part. There is no indication or evidence that FFRF specifically picked out the church as a spot for their billboard, but Hunter is going to assume so anyways. Hunter then goes on to assume that FFRF got angry about it and very literally pulls a quote out of thin air about the mindset of FFRF. This is the part where you have to shake the away the birds flying around your head like a looney toons cartoon and go back to read Hunter’s first paragraph.


    (did they know ahead of time that they would be liable for property
    taxes if used in this way?) None of us really knows the answer to that
    question

    So it’s okay to assume the mindset of FFRF but not of the church? The blatant hypocritical 180 degree turn from 1 paragraph to the next astounds me.

    Goes right
    against the following verse: “Vengence is mine…I will repay”.
    Meaning that we are to not take it upon ourselves to enact revenge, but
    leave it to G-d. If that church did in fact know they were responsible,
    and chose to be silent even though no one was clearly pressing the
    issue, then G-d would have taken care of that situation. Omission or
    lack of acknowledgement of the truth is still lying.

    Sweet. If the church did anything wrong, it is up to God and God alone to punish them for it. Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo is playing God, God dammit! Why can’t we just close prisons too and let God deal with anyone who breaks the law. Or is this “Only God can punish them” attitude reserved only for Christian churches?

    But seriously, what a bunch of godless crybabies.

    Indeed… indeed we are the crybabies here.

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

      “Goes right against the following verse: “Vengence is mine, I will repay.” Yadda yadda…”

      I guess he didn’t get the memo about the whole pagans-as-the-scourge-of-God thing? 

      Good post. :)

    • Michael

      How does Hunter know that God wasn’t using the county auditor and FFRF to exact that very vengeance? After all, God hardens whom he hardens, and all that happens plays out according to his will.

    • Ducky

      “Omission or lack of acknowledgement of the truth is still lying.”
      Oh irony, you’re so good to me!
      Seriously, why doesn’t he just write out God? Reminds me of the kind of guys who like to talk about wolves without every saying wolf. It’s just sad and weird. Unless that was you Larry?

      • Nico

        Some Jewish and Christian sects believe that writing out God’s name in full demeans it. So they write ‘G-d’ instead.

        • Rich Wilson

          You can tell leet Christians because they write ‘G0d’.

          (I think the joke is going to be lost with this f0nt)

        • Ducky

          So, how do they say it?  :)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    The whole point of view of the writer, Joseph Perkins, is so twisted, there can be little doubt of his unwillingness to contribute positively to the human experience for the sake of people, not just his religion.

    • Anonymous

      I was thinking: they spun the story so hard, they made rope.

  • Anonymous

    “Although it would seem that the out-of-state organization would have no legal standing”

    - This has been a major defence used to deny FFRF cases being heard. Funny how they cry when it doesn’t work for once. 

    (By the way, yes, a city is going to be interested in missing tax dollars. Sounds like churches are more like landlords than non-profits.)

    • Anonymous

      That’s a particularly stupid comment by the Christian Post.  FFRF didn’t bring suit here, so legal standing is irrelevant.  They just brought the matter to the attention of the Franklin County Auditor, who obviously does have the ability to ensure that the proper taxes are paid. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure there are many more churches and “corporate citizens” who are getting away with nuanced economic fraud. If atheists are the watchdogs of the churches and other religious entities, who should be the watchdogs of “corporate citizens”…all of us. I’m fired up about “Occupy Wall Street” because I was one of the many “young people” who protested Viet Nam and I remember the long battle we fought and the sense of satisfaction when it was over. It took a long time, but we prevailed. Unfortunately, I’m tired and old so the young people of this generation will have to take over protesting the new war…economic class warfare. Churches should not be exempt from taxes when their congregations are tithing and paying taxes to support them. The only tax break the congregants get is a deduction for charitable donations, including tithing to their church and they only get to deduct up to a certain amount before the IRS considers an audit. Who audits the churches???

    • Anonymous

      Almost no one audits churches.  With IRC Sec. 7611, Congress made it very hard for the IRS to audit churches.   Beyond that, churches are specifically exempted from the annual financial disclosures (Form 990) that other non-profits must file.  So, churches receive partial tax-exemption and an implicit subsidy from the government in the form of tax-deductibility of donations without any ability of the government or the public to ensure that the laws are being followed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      They should just set a rate of tax for churches and use the money to clear the defecit and run social programs.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Frymyer-Jr/100000615357468 Arthur Frymyer Jr.

        On first thought, that sounds like an excellent idea.  What church would object to financing programs that help the people?  But on further reflection, probably a lot of them would.  Sad to say, but a lot of Christian churches just pay lip service to Christ and in reality only follow those teachings they find expedient.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-David-Barber/100000327055940 Michael David Barber

      No one audits churches because they don’t pay taxes.  Americans have to make a complaint concerning a church and it’s breaking of the 501(c)3 requirements.  If a church leader or a church even wades in to the political arena, like endorsing a candidate or interfering in legislation (writing letters to the editor, posting things on their websites, sending out flyers, etc.), I suggest to you to get a copy of whatever the violation is and send it in to the IRS with a 3949A-IRS Form and make a citizens complaint.  Many of these megachurches are influencing our elections and that needs to stop NOW.

  • aimee eisiminger

    Hmmmmm….maybe there is  a god!  NAH

    • Derrik Pates

      Nope. Chuck Testa!

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how hard it would be to go through the tax rolls and see what is on church owned properties in your town?

    • Anonymous

      Oh, there’s a huge church in the next town over from mine that owns a large shopping center directly across the road from its “main campus” (yes, it actually has “satellite” locations in surrounding communities). A lot of the space in the strip mall is used for the offices of its various programs, including a church meeting hall. However, there are several businesses, the largest of which is a Big Lots store, as well as several fast-food joints on the periphery of the parking lot. I’ve been wondering for years how much they’re getting away with by not being taxed, as I’m sure they aren’t, here in the Bible Belt.

      • http://profiles.google.com/billwalker666 Bill Walker

        Prior to my retirement 23 years ago, I knew of churches with gas / oil wells on their property.  I still wonder whether they paid taxes on the 12 &1 half % royalty. 

    • Anonymous

      I was thinking just the same thing.  Auditing a church may well net the local council a nice sum and increase taxes in subsequent years.  This would reduce the tax burden on the rest of the community.  Everybody wins….except those who are dishonest about paying taxes.

    • SeniorSkeptik

      All you have to do is go to the County Tax Assessor’s web page and look up the tax evaluation.  Most sites are open to the public. You can look up specific properties by address or by name (including your own).  I don’t know about other states but that’s how it is in Texas.

      • Rich Wilson

        A good idea to check on a house before you rent.  Unpaid back taxes are an indication the owner is also no longer paying the mortgage, and you’ll have to move in a few months.

        Zillow makes it easy to get an parcel # from the address, in case the assessor doesn’t have an address lookup.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

      While I don’t necessarily disagree with this being done, it is important to point out how dissimilar this idea is to what happened.

      The church here got busted not because FFRF found “another way to attack them,” but rather because a church having a commercially-leased billboard on their property is one of those proverbial “things that make you go hmmmm”.  

      The Christian Post has a narrative where the FFRF thought process goes like this: “This sucks!  How can we get back at those fuckers?  Hmmm, maybe their taxes…”The FFRF’s real thought process was probably closer to this: “Oh, a church owns that property, crap.  Wait… a CHURCH owns that property?  Uh… a TAX-EXEMPT church?  That doesn’t sound right…”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

      While I don’t necessarily disagree with this being done, it is important to point out how dissimilar this idea is to what happened.

      The church here got busted not because FFRF found “another way to attack them,” but rather because a church having a commercially-leased billboard on their property is one of those proverbial “things that make you go hmmmm”.  

      The Christian Post has a narrative where the FFRF thought process goes like this: “This sucks!  How can we get back at those fuckers?  Hmmm, maybe their taxes…”The FFRF’s real thought process was probably closer to this: “Oh, a church owns that property, crap.  Wait… a CHURCH owns that property?  Uh… a TAX-EXEMPT church?  That doesn’t sound right…”

      • ACN

        Exactly. The church set off all of the warning lights here.

  • converted

    I’ve never been a strong advocate for these billboards, though I understand the reasoning behind them and think they are a good idea. But if they can make churches pay at least some of their share of taxes, I’m a believer.

    Now if we could just get them taxed on the rest of the money they make (and spend to make themselves more comfortable while they delude each other).

  • Tinker

    I find it interesting when lawyers argue the no legal standing issue as if interpretation of the Constitution is a local thing.

  • Angel

    I initially posted a comment on their FB page after learning of their post about “imps of Satan” attacking them, and asking them to pray for them while they fight the enemy…my comment consisted of something like “Wouldn’t it be easiest to just pay the back taxes instead of asking people to fight an enemy?”.

    The comments stayed up longer than I expected them to, and some of them were very very reasonable and sound, and some were ruder than others…guess which ones the Church left up on their FB page?

  • Greisha

    I went through the article and church defenders’ comments in CP and only have one thing to say – cognitive dissonance.  Indeed after I read this book (Mistakes were made, but not by me) I see cognitive dissonance everywhere :) .

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      The question then is if you notice any cognitive dissonance from yourself? 

      (Incidentally, I thought that was a really good book. The Boston Skeptics Book Club read it a few months ago and we all really enjoyed it.) 

  • http://twitter.com/arensb arensb

    At least they’re consistent: remember when The God Delusion came out, and Christians were up in arms, denouncing the tone of Dawkins’s “most unpleasant character in all of fiction” comment, but somehow never got around to showing how that it was factually wrong?
    I can only conclude that they agreed that the God of the Old Testament is misogynistic, barbaric, etc., but thought it rude of Dawkins to point it out.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Didn’t the Vatican do something similar? If I remember right they accused the New York Times for “attacking” them when they exposed pedophilia. I guess thats just the religious mindset, sometimes: The church is always right and just and shame on you for proving otherwise.

  • Stephanie

    And the sermon for today comes from John 8:7, where Jesus lifts himself up and says “Dorks, if you’re going to whine about ads you don’t like on your billboard, at least make sure you aren’t committing tax fraud on it.”

  • Anonymous

    Sooo….

    Church evades taxes
    Atheists point out tax evasion
    Ergo, atheists are evil.

    Well, it makes about as much sense as most of the other things they believe in.

    By the way, in the article I read:

    On its Facebook page, the church informed its congregation it had been targeted by “Satan and his imps.”

    Am I alone in kind of enjoying being called a Devil’s imp by this set of geniuses?

    • Anonymous

      It’s interesting how so many Christians are also Satanists

  • Atheist

    Justice, sweet sweet justice pounding Christians in the ass.

  • Evileyemonster

    When churches are finally recognized as businesses (that they are), the government will tax them all as they should be.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    I’m surprised that Clear Channel, purveyor of Right-wing shows, would accept an ad by an atheist organization.

  • Verimius

    That should be “sicced”, not “sicked”.

  • Joe Black

    Most churches get around that technicality by rather than collecting a rental fee, just having the receiver of goods to donate the amount to the church once a month.   And also acquiring a tax write off for their donation. 

    • Curt Cameron

      Joe Black, it’s a tax write-off for a business to actually spend money, like to rent a billboard. It would also be a tax write-off to donate money to the church, but I can see two problems (IANACPA) with that: 1) charitable donations are often limited, and 2) the deduction you can take for a charitable contribution is only the amount you give that’s in excess of any products or services you receive.

      If a business spends $1000 on a billboard, the whole amount is a write-off. If they donate $1000 to a church and the church reciprocates by putting an ad for their business on its billboard, then it shouldn’t all be a write-off, and it’s much more complicated.

      I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s much more straightforward and probably financially beneficial to the business just to rent the billboard and not mess with the donation.

  • Gary D.

    If churches paid their fair share of taxes (Property & Income) it would more than likely erase the national debt.

  • http://strippr.tumblr.com/ Strippr

    I just can’t imagine how people live with so much hate, desperation for any enemy, and spend that much time to create their own threats. It seems like it would be really fucking tough to find that much energy.

    And yes, I am enjoying being called a little Devil’s imp. I’m drawn to the word “imp,” sort of like “quirky,” and “snarky,” at the moment. Besides…demons are actually sort of neat, after reading about several of them.

    What is it about logic that half the country just absolutely throws a tantrum about? It’s fucking *bizarre*.

  • Church member

    I am a former member of this sorry church. Pastor Malone is now opening a restaurant on church property. The same church that also runs a daycare and afterschool program run by the pastors family. No one else from the congregation profits except the pastor and his family. The entire family is very materialistic and look down on the congregation. I am not surprised at this article. I am just surprised no one caught on sooner. This church has lost so many good members that its just sad. Now it’s just another 501c3 ready to take your money through one of their many fundraising events. Its sad :( Sometimes the preacher doesn’t even preach. Service is “subject to the spirit”, which means they all just run around speaking in tongues :( Every week we collect offering but the amount collected is NEVER disclosed. Church finances are a secret within the Malone family. This church needs to be investigated!! They have moved so far away from being like Jesus and have adopted a prosperity gospel that is hurting the congregation. This church needs to be investigated. THis is not the only fraudulent activity going on.


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