Church Ordered to Pay $13,000 in Property Taxes Heads to Court

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A California church is suing the city of San Rafael for forcing it to pay property taxes even though religious institutions are constitutionally exempt. 

In 2010, San Rafael adopted the Paramedic Services Special Tax, which allows the city to annually tax non-residential buildings at a rate of up to 14 cents per square foot. 

While churches and other religious institutions are normally exempt from property taxes, the city said the Valley Baptist Church was responsible for the tax, and ordered it to pay more than $13,000. The city said the tax was not a regular property tax, but a “special tax,” thus making the church responsible to pay. 

However, Valley Baptist attorneys believe the special tax is unconstitutional and will argue its case before court on Tuesday. 

“We’re asking the court to call this violation what it is—an unconstitutional property tax,” said Pacific Justice Institute Attorney Ray Hacke, who is representing Valley Baptist in this case.  “Evidence shows that the city has no intention of collecting paramedic tax money from the public schools, which are protected by the same tax exemptions as churches under the California Constitution.  They are not only ignoring higher law, but picking and choosing who will and will not be subjected to an onerous tax.”

If the court rules against Valley Baptist, the church will be forced to pay thousands of dollars in the coming years. 

Brad Dacus, founder and president of PJI, says this case has could affect other churches. 

“This case has implications far beyond San Rafael and the Bay Area.  If the city succeeds at evading the state constitution, other cities would be given the green light to ignore constitutional protections of churches in the future by playing a re-labeling game,” he said. 

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