RELIGIOUS AUTONOMY BEFORE THE COURTS:
Interfaith Amicus Brief: Gov. attempt to divide houses of worship is “not right and not possible.”
Boston, MA: On Tuesday April 5, 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear a case that could affect the religious autonomy of every diverse house of worship in the Commonwealth, including your local congregation. The Attleboro Tax Assessors have attempted to divide what they consider religious and non-religious space at the Shrine of LaSalette, in order to levy taxes on a religious institution.
You can watch a live stream of the hearing at: http://www.suffolk.edu/sjc/
We believe the tax assessor’s attempt to categorize and then divide religious space is both not right and not possible.
Major religious organizations in the state have united in our concern. We have led an interfaith coalition to file an Amicus Brief articulating our shared opposition. The Massachusetts Council of Churches is dedicated to making the vibrant Church visible. With this Amicus Brief, we seek to ensure that every house of worship can continue your mission of worship and service without undue intrusion.
We are deeply grateful for the pro bono legal services of Heidi Nadel, Esq. of the law firm Cross || Nadel, LLC. Crafting an amicus brief takes a lot of work. The twelve religious institutions on the Amicus Brief are thankful for the attentive and wise legal counsel of Heidi Nadel, Esq, a committed defender of First Amendment rights. You can thank Attorney Nadel with a note to: firstname.lastname@example.org
To support that Massachusetts Council of Churches in our ministry, click here: http://masscouncilofchurches.org/donate/
This conversation happens at the property line. The tax assessors of Attleboro, or anywhere, cannot divide religious spaces from non-religious spaces within a church-owned property. For many religious traditions, worship, service, and charity are indivisible and inseparable. The tax assessors have made false distinctions that go to the heart of religious self-understanding.
Defining “houses of religious worship” to include only those “structures” that a local assessor may understand to be “traditionally” associated with religious organizations opens the door to favoritism and marginalization.
The First Amendment and the Massachusetts Constitution safeguards that the church, synagogue, mosque, gurdwara or shrine (not the government) determines their religious practices for themselves. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause Eleventh ensures that “religious houses of worship” used for "religious worship or instruction” are exempt from taxation for exactly this reason; As Americans & citizens of the Commonwealth, we affirm religious autonomy and the uncompromising principle of free exercise of religion. Local tax assessors must not become the arbiters of what counts as religious worship and what does not.
Ruling in favor of the LDS Church in Belmont, former SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote, “It is not for judges to determine whether the inclusion of a particular architectural feature is ‘necessary’ for a particular religion.” Indeed, it is not for judges or tax assessors to determine which parts of a church are for religious education, or which parts of a synagogue are for worship, or which parts of a mosque are for charity.
The integrity and autonomy of houses of worship are protected for a reason. We do not believe it right or possible for local tax assessors to come in with their ruler and arbitrarily measure where worship ends and begins.
An appeal regarding religious autonomy. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear the case No. SJC-12021: Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette Appellant v. Board of Assessors of Attleboro, Appellee.
Tuesday April 5, 2016, beginning at 9am. Open to the public.
- Amici Curiae in support of the Appellant, Our Lady of LaSalette
- Massachusetts Council of Churches
- Council on American Islamic Relations- Massachusetts
- Emmanuel Gospel Center
- Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
- Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts
- Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
- Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ
- New England Conference of the United Methodist Church
- New England Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association
- New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, Holliston, Massachusetts
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
- In a separate Amicus Brief in support of the Appellant, Our Lady of LaSalette
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester