‘It’s in God’s hands,’ says pastor after church gets ‘nightmare’ tax bill

‘It’s in God’s hands,’ says pastor after church gets ‘nightmare’ tax bill December 18, 2018

A church in Florida, deemed to have violated its religious exemption status by operating, among other things, a for-profit school, has been hit with a $7.1-m tax bill.

Described as “an ultimate nightmare scenario” in a report in the Miami Herald, the First Presbyterian Church of Miami – the oldest organised congregation in the city –  received notice from the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser that it has to cough up the cash for leasing a portion of church grounds to the school and food trucks.

According to Florida Statute 196.196, only the portions of a property that are used predominantly for charitable, religious, scientific, or literary purposes can be deemed exempt from taxation.

In two complaints filed in civil court last month, attorneys for the church argued that the operation of the school:

Is motivated by the church’s sincere religious beliefs.

Pastor Christopher Atwood, (inset), who joined the church in 2012, said the school is a critical part of the church’s mission. He teaches a chapel class and his daughter is a student.

Atwood said he was unable to comment on the lawsuit, but he remains sanguine about the outcome.

We trust the process. The property appraiser is doing their job and we are doing ours. The rest is in the hands of God.

Attorney Andrew Ittleman, who is representing the church, did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this story.

But some legal experts think the church’s discrimination claim will have a tough time sticking in court.

Said Franklin Zemel, a partner at the Fort Lauderdale office of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, who represents dozens of churches, synagogues and mosques around the country:

What’s happening to this church is the ultimate nightmare scenario. I don’t see this as religious discrimination. I don’t see anything that suggests the county is acting in a mean or arbitrary way. To me, it sounds like you’ve got a church that is leasing out a school, they’re making money and not paying what they owe.

Key Point Christian Academy is the school currently operating on church grounds. It has 178 students and 45 teachers. Tuition for kindergarten through fifth-grade students is $15,850 per year; sixth- to eighth-grade tuition is $16,185.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Zetopan

    Tax *all* of the churches! They get deeply involved in politics.

  • 16,000 * 178 = 2,848,000

    These asshats can afford to pay some taxes.

  • Mark in Ohio

    This situation sounds like it will require a rather labyrinthine journey through the tax codes to resolve. As many (most?) religious schools are tax-exempt, I don’t doubt that they will end up coming out of this without having to pay the assessed taxes. Whether or not that is less than the final legal bills is another story.

  • Milo C

    I keep hoping to hear my old Catholic high school goes bankrupt, and maybe the well-to-do neighbors will put money into the public school. Aside from the goddamn football stadium, you bastards. *grumbles about priorities*

  • laura1919

    Right there with you, Milo. I attended a religously based high school. When they came after me as an alumnus for donations, I told them I’d consider it as soon as they started spending more on their science classrooms than on football uniforms. 40 years later, it hasn’t happened. Not even close.

  • Broga

    That is the problem. The belief that they can avoid taxes and the law that everyone else has to obey.
    “Is motivated by the church’s sincere religious beliefs.”

  • Lurker111

    “Tuition for kindergarten through fifth-grade students is $15,850 per year; sixth- to eighth-grade tuition is $16,185.”


    That much for a crap education. Would be interesting to see where all that money went, year-to-year.

    Quick figs: 170 students x 16k = $2,720,000
    Teacher sals = 40 x 30k (if that) = $1,200,000

    That leaves $1,520,000 for building’s mortgage, and for general overhead. Depending on the size of the building, that might even be reasonable. Hmmm … Should still be several 100k available for grifting, though.

  • Lurker111

    Ouch. I’ll save your comment for future use.

  • Mr. James Parson

    The Catholic Church I went to closed its school. There’s hope for your school

  • Sophotroph

    No, the reason they’ve been stuck with the bill is that they have engaged in non-exempt activity.

    They are already on the hook for it. They’re trying to argue in court that it’s discrimination to make them follow the law.

    This will be a short court case, and they’ll end up paying out both the taxes owed and the legal fees.

  • barriejohn

    First Miami offers children a Christian Education class at Key Point Christian Academy. The curriculum engages children with Bible stories, formative character lessons, and take-home activities which are designed to help children remember and share these important lessons. The Christian Education Teacher engages the children and helps them develop the understanding of who God is and how we should treat others.

    What sort of an education do they call that?


  • barriejohn
  • TheBookOfDavid

    Great idea. Thoughts and prayers on the way!

  • TheBookOfDavid

    In their defense, pastor Atwood only implicated church as a for-profit enterprise.

  • barriejohn


  • Kanawah

    The first step in a long road to fully taxing the church.
    They can fully file their financial statement and take deductions b the law, and pay tax on the net income, and that would fix the national debt.

  • Kanawah


  • tatortotcassie

    Every person who claims that Christianity isn’t a religion (“it’s a personal relationship with Jayses!”) . . . . take note. Are you suuuuuuuure it’s not a religion?