By Emily Kreps

The Independence Law Center, with assistance from attorney Lindsey Hoban of Ballard Spahr, obtained an important court victory on behalf of a small church in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. In the case, Northmoreland Baptist Church v. Wyoming County Board of Assessment Appeals and Revision of Taxes, the Wyoming County Common Pleas Court sided with the church, ruling that no part of the church building should be taxed.

Last year, the church was assessed property tax on part of its building, contrary to Pennsylvania law and the longstanding tradition in our nation that churches should not be taxed. After appropriately appealing the tax with county authorities to no avail, the church leaders turned to the Independence Law Center for help, and today they have their victory.

“We are gratified that the court recognized that the definition of what is religious should be left to the church and that the church as a whole should be free from taxation,” says Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center. “It is our hope that this decision will not only help the Northmoreland Baptist Church but other churches facing the same problem.”

According to Wenger, “If our government were permitted to siphon off the income of the church— funds meant for the ministry of the church—the gospel mission of churches would be endangered.” Therefore, the church appealed its property tax assessment before the Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas, where a hearing was held last fall.

“A property tax exemption is not so much a special favor for churches as a way to protect the independence of religious institutions,” says Wenger. “When the government has the power to tax, it has the power to control.”

The Independence Law Center offered its legal services at no charge to Northmoreland Baptist Church, thanks to the contributions of concerned citizens throughout Pennsylvania.