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Chicago cannot stop church lawsuit for lien over bake sales

ADF-allied attorney represents church accused of mysterious sales tax violation by officials who separately wanted property for redevelopment
Published On: 10/18/2017

CHICAGO — A court Thursday blocked the city of Chicago’s attempt to stop a lawsuit filed by an ADF-allied attorney representing Beth-El All Nations Church. The city, which has sought in the past to obtain the church’s property for redevelopment, placed a lien on the property without notifying the church, alleging the congregation engaged in unspecified “resale activity” without collecting and paying sales tax. The church says it has not engaged in any such activity other than exempt charitable bake sales.

“The government should not demonstrate hostility toward religion by penalizing churches when there’s clearly no reason to do so,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joe Infranco.

“To put a lien on a church’s property for the invented reason that the church somehow engaged in some undefined ‘resale activity’ and didn’t collect and pay sales tax is simply ludicrous,” said ADF-allied attorney and lead counsel Andy Norman of the Chicago law firm Mauck & Baker. “The court was right to allow the church’s case against the city to proceed.”

In 1976, Beth-El All Nations Church purchased, then rehabilitated, a piece of property in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Eight years later, Beth-El opened a church on the property. City officials sought but failed to purchase the property for redevelopment purposes.

Cook County officials decided more than 12 years ago that the church owes taxes for the years 1986 to 1995 because they claim it engaged in unspecified “resale activity.” However, the church has only conducted minor fundraising activities such as bake sales, which are not subject to sales tax. County officials later sold the right to obtain the tax deed to the city of Chicago.

Numerous procedural errors resulted in the church never being informed of the city’s intentions to put a lien on the property. Meanwhile, a state court entered a tax deed for the city, giving it title to the church’s real estate. Norman filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County on behalf of the church to recover title to the church’s property. The city asked the court to dismiss the church’s suit, Beth-El All Nations Church v. City of Chicago, but it denied that request Thursday.

ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.

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