PHOENIX — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys asked the Arizona Supreme Court Thursday to hear the case of a Quartzsite church facing an illegally assessed property tax bill that would force it to shut down.
“Churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished by the government when they’ve not done anything wrong, but that’s precisely what is happening to this church. If government officials have their way, this church will lose everything,” said Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The county assessor illegally levied more than $50,000 in taxes against the church even though the Arizona Department of Revenue provided a letter stating that the church should owe no taxes. We are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to right this wrong.”
A September decision from the Arizona Court of Appeals in Church of the Isaiah 58 Project of Arizona v. La Paz County upheld an earlier Tax Court ruling that said the church should have paid the tax bill before challenging it as illegal. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argue, however, that state law does not require the church to do so when it is challenging an illegally assessed tax so high that the congregation can’t pay the bill and ask for a refund later.
The tax bill of more than $50,000 is approximately equal to the church’s entire annual budget. Paying the tax before filing suit would have required the church to close its doors, sell off its assets, and end its ministry.
The bill has resulted in a tax lien on the church’s property which could result in foreclosure and an end to the church’s ministry, including its outreach to the needy--a program which the Quartzsite mayor and police chief have praised.
Under state law, the church qualified for an exemption from property taxes and filed the appropriate paperwork with the La Paz County property assessor. The assessor sat on the church’s paperwork for three years before granting a tax exemption and then only granted it for the years 2009 and later, leaving the church with back-taxes for 2007-2008 that it should not owe.
Steven D. Keist of Glendale and Andre E. Carman of Prescott, two of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, are co-counsel in the case.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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