New Hampshire Supreme Court Approves Taxing a Church’s Bathroom

We keep saying church ought to taxed and the New Hampshire Supreme Court has found a novel way to do it… kind of.

Here’s the backstory: When the Liberty Assembly of God (now called Destiny Christian Church) opened, they were given the same religious tax exemption all churches get. In 2008, the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) realized that most of this property wasn’t really part of the church — there was a school and dormitory that had no real religious purpose — and they sent the church a tax bill for the non-religious parts of the property. The church appealed… but last week, the State Supreme Court voted 4-0 (PDF) to affirm the earlier ruling — in other words, the tax bill stands!

So… vacant apartments? Taxed.

Storage rooms? Taxed.

Dorm rooms used as storage rooms? Taxed.

Second-floor men’s restroom? Taxed.

The church argued that the vacant rooms were used to house the homeless and needy — part of their church’s mission — but the records show the rooms were infrequently used… and one of them was just a makeshift apartment for a church advisory board member’s grandson:

The BTLA specifically found that the grandson’s occupancy of the room “was not so much the result of an expression of [Assembly’s] intent to provide housing for the needy as it was a consequence of him being related to a member of [Assembly’s] advisory board and a convenience for him by not having to find alternative housing.”

The Supreme Court’s case over the unholiness of the second-floor men’s bathroom is especially entertaining:

The BTLA found that the bathroom “appeared to exist primarily to serve any occupants of the second floor dorm rooms and did not appear to be critical for the congregation’s activities that occur on the first floor.” To the extent that the bathroom was used by congregants, “such use,” the BTLA found, “did not appear to be significant or critical for the religious use of the Property on the first floor.” Assembly apparently challenges these findings as unreasonable because the caretaker testified that parishioners used the second-floor men’s room during worship services. Assembly, thus, impliedly asserts that the BTLA failed to weigh the testimony properly. We defer to the BTLA’s judgment in determining the weight to be given evidence. Because Assembly has not demonstrated by a clear preponderance of the evidence… that the second-floor restroom was “owned, used and occupied directly for religious training or for other religious purposes,” we cannot find error in the BTLA’s finding such space taxable.

So… First floor bathroom? Holy shit. Second floor bathroom? Not so much.

Because the church can’t pay the tax bill, the property is currently on the market for $650,000. No takers yet.

(Thanks to GodVlogger for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Let’s hope this is a new trend of scrutiny.

  • CelticWhisper

    I wonder what would happen if Planned Parenthood bought the church and turned it into an abortion clinic.

    • Thorny264

      The world would be a better place.

      • The Other Weirdo

         A friend of mine once had the idea of buying a for-sale church and turning it into a strip joint, like they have in NY.

        • judith sanders

          As a dance teacher, I’d consider  buying a church because they often have hardwood floors and plenty to room to twirl around.  The heating/AC bills can be a beast, though.

    • jimm58

      PP would pay the property taxes.

  • monyNH

    “So… First floor bathroom? Holy shit.”

    Bwa haha haha! That’s awesome–thanks for the laugh!

    • The Other Weirdo

       I know, I loved that.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ED6TTXZER7BVAJZVM5OB26GPT4 MarkM

    Wish they would do this to the mega-churches in my town.  There’s one that actually closed down a major thoroughfare for an entire weekend while they built an enclosed walkway OVER THE STREET to connect their mega-sanctuary/school with their gym/bookstore/daycare/convention center mega-building across the street.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    In terms of activism seeking to have religious institutions pay their fare share, we should all be on the lookout for our local churches/temples/mosques that have businesses that are not church-type functions, but are getting/abusing the tax-free status that religions unfortunately get.

    To be fair, religious places should file the very SAME tax documents as EVERY other not-for-profit (501-c-3) organization, where in order to EARN tax-exempt status they have to open their books and justify which of their activities/properties/businesses are directly related to whatever tax codes allow for non-taxable income.

    Any PORTIONS of church activities that do NOT meet the tax codes for tax exemption should *of course* be TAXED, just like would be true for EVERY other type of organization.

    If you know of examples in your local community, inform your local, state, or federal tax authorities.

    Also, maybe someone can set up a website where we could all submit these, to help foster networking together on this.  

    • judith sanders

      An excellent summary and advice.  Here’s a link to the IRS form for complaints about non-profit status violation.  
      http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f13909.pdf

      I don’t mind if churches allow other groups to use their facilities for a nominal fee, but I do object to untaxed sales of books, DVDs, rosaries, t-shirts, day care, food, etc.  They need the services of public utilities, police and fire departments just as much as tax paying establishments.

      • LifeInTraffic

        I forsee a project for myself  coming on in the form of lots of paperwork about Liberty U, who abuses their non-profit status blatantly and consistently. Thank you for the link! 

      • Sindigo

        This link should go on the front page with a brief write up. I sense a campaign coming on.

  • DG

    I’m all for taxing churches, then they will be able to fully involve themselves in the workings of politics and other public functions.  To say otherwise at that point would merely admit to anti-religious bigotry and persecution for the sake of anti-religious bigotry and persecution.  So tax away.

    • LifeInTraffic

      Since the churches already involve themselves deeply and vocally in politics, I agree. Especially around here, almost EVERY church in the area has political campaign signs promoting specific candidates, and giving sermons about who to vote for is SOP, and both of these things are direct violations of their non-profit status. Yes, the activities have been reported, but so far nothing has been done).
       At least the city, state, and feds would be getting their due taxes for people who are already violating their non-profit status anyway. 

  • Robster

    Outside of the US, we’re constantly hearing just how broke and in debt the US is. here’s the answer! Tax the curches, or at least the non-religious bits. There must be zillions of churches in the US, that could mean a debt busting additional income for Uncle Sam is waiting for exploitation. Co’mon, bite the bullet

  • randall.morrison90

    “The power to tax is the power to destroy”.

    So I am fighting an atheist group claiming the status because they discuss politics and have banned me from their meetups.

    • LifeInTraffic

      Do they have official tax-exempt, non-profit status? If so, then no, they shouldn’t be vocally dabbling in politics. They *can* discuss political issues, however, in relation to their beliefs; but, they cannot endorse a candidate, lecture on how to vote, etc. These are the same issues a church must follow. If they have a leader, that leader cannot, in their official capacity, tell members how to vote, etc.

      That said, non-profits can, indeed, ban people from their meetings for disruptive behavior, behavior that makes other people feel unsafe, etc. Churches do this all the time, as do other groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism. So long as they have rules and a procedure for it, it does not violate their status to ban you for behaviors they deem inappropriate, so long as those behaviors are not discriminatory per state and federal law. They can’t ban your for simply being religious, but they can ban you for being disruptive, violating accepted behavior codes, etc.

      • LifeInTraffic

        My guess, btw, is that if it’s a small, local group they probably do not have official non-profit status, though I could be wrong. Most of the meetups I know of are just like book clubs. They have nothing on which to pay taxes, since they make no revenues and have no assets.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Dunno about the politics part, since you haven’t even told us who this group is, but they, like churches, don’t have to accept everyone.  If you go and troll, at a church or an atheist meetup, you’ll probably get kicked out, and rightly so.

      [Guess I should have read all of LifeInTraffic's's comment before reiterating... sorry]

  • Good and Godless

    Now then they are going to pay seven times the settled amount, right?

  • Jake Uden

    Am I missing something here?? $650,000? Is this a megachurch or what?