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!)