Officials in Ramsey County, Minnesota have sent letters to more than 800 churches and related entities there demanding various documents to justify the tax-exempt status of the ministries. Christian legal experts call the move illegal harassment.
Douglas Napier, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), says the county is violating state law just by requesting the information. "Government officials have no right to harass churches in violation of state law," says the attorney. "And the county needs to realize that its threats to revoke the tax-exempt status of hundreds of churches, unless those churches submit their laundry list of documents, is [sic] clearly a violation of Minnesota law."
He says the county assessor's goal is not entirely clear. "It appears from the letters that they're on a fishing expedition to find out anything and everything that they can to possibly disqualify these churches," says Napier, noting that the only issue applicable is property tax. "So if it's land -- whether it's developed or not -- they are trying to, apparently, look for a way to disqualify them from their tax-exempt status for that land," he suggests.
Napier says that, at this time, the church's suit against the county does not address the First Amendment issues that are part of the case because the Minnesota law against what the county is doing is so clear. "It's simpler than even understanding the First Amendment," remarks the attorney. "They've got specific laws on the books in Minnesota that tell them that churches don't have to do this. And, certainly, from a First Amendment standpoint, there are serious issues of entanglement here, and overreaching."
ADF attorneys have already gotten the court to bar the county from collecting property taxes from one of the churches while a lawsuit against the county proceeds. Napier hopes the court will simply enforce the existing state law against the county and leave the churches alone.
"We just want them to back down and respect the nature of the churches and continue to acknowledge their tax-exempt status," he shares. One News Now