The Transformation of the Church and Zoning

Government, politics, and the law.

The Transformation of the Church and Zoning

Postby Foxen » Mon Oct 17, 2005 2:48 pm

This was an issue raised by one of my professors.

Churches and other religious organizations classified as 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations have property tax exemptions (I think) and other benefits. However, over the years the face and function of the church has changed...

Churches are no longer a place for mere "worship"....there are day cares, bookstores, gyms, even cafes, cafeterias, and some even have tv production studios...

Should churches still benefit from their religious exemptions for zoning laws when they form and function are starting to change? Should they need to pay taxes on their sales and be charged property tax?

What is the difference, say, between Willow Creek and a local mall. Willow Creek has a pretty elaborate bookstore, cafe/food court, and gym...while the mall, of course has bookstores, food courts, and gyms...but one has to pay taxes through their teeth, the other doesn't?

Thought?
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Postby scrivener » Mon Oct 17, 2005 10:12 pm

Whoa. This is a new one.

I love it. I love this. What a great issue to think about.

All that, and I'm not going to give an opinion. Yet. Gotta absorb. Thanks...you gave me something new to work on!
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
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Postby scrivener » Thu Oct 27, 2005 7:18 am

Okay, I've had a chance to mull it over, and I think that while it's certainly something the church leadership should think over and revisit every so often, the purpose of granting tax-exemption for non-profits is to encourage such groups to continue in their missions, which typically are of benefit to the community.

If the church is above-ground with its use of money, which I think it has to be in order to maintain that 501(c)(3) status, all this money being generated by bookstores and cafes is being put to use in the continuing mission of the church. It's not really different from having a little car wash in the parking lot.

Zoning is certainly a different issue. If the operation of a cafe is fund-raising, then I think it's still just a fancier car wash; however, the function of zoning is not about purpose so much as results, and if those concerns are legitimate, this needs to be addressed. On the other hand, some of these zoning laws are questionable. My church recently built a new parking lot, and there was a strict limit on the number of stalls we could put in the lot, but of course there's no limit on the number of cars we can put there, so the lines for stalls are painted and we pretty much don't even use those stalls in cramming the lot with as many cars as we can reasonably get in there.
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Postby Foxen » Fri Oct 28, 2005 1:39 am

That's hilarious how your church works "around" the zoning laws. Hehe. Personally, I need to do more research and hear both sides (and a third and fourth side) to get more thoughts on the issue. I dunno if they are going to make any changes in the near future. And the more recent Federal laws that allow for strict srutiny review for religious land use has or will be shot down soon. Hmm...I have to sit and stew over this issue also.

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