County attempted to tax church despite state law and Constitution

WARREN COUNTY, Pa. — House of Worship, a church in Warren, Pennsylvania, prevailed last week in a controversy over the taxation of its church building. The County revoked the church’s tax exemption in 2011, even though the property, previously used as a synagogue, had been tax exempt for nearly a century. The church appealed, arguing that churches and other places of religious worship are entitled to tax exemption under the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions and under state law.“Pennsylvania law recognizes that many institutions, like churches, are entitled to property tax exemption because of the way they benefit society. But that is not the main reason that churches are tax exempt” said Randall Wenger, one of the church’s attorneys and Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center.

“Churches are entitled to tax exemption because the power to tax is the power to control. Just look at the way the government controls our behavior through the income tax,” continued James Clymer of Clymer, Musser & Conrad, P.C., lead counsel for House of Worship. “The important principle of religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution cannot be maintained if the government begins asserting that kind of power over our churches.”

House of Worship filed an appeal in December of 2011 and a Motion for Summary Judgment in October of 2012. The Court last week ordered that the property be exempt from taxation. “We are gratified that the church can be free from the government picking its pockets and diverting funds that are meant for the church’s ministry,” said Wenger.

The Independence Law Center is a pro-bono, non-profit law center in Pennsylvania focused on protecting religious liberty. Clymer, Musser & Conrad, P.C. is a general practice law firm in Pennsylvania, whose attorneys often take cases focused on protecting our liberties.

Learn more about the work of the Independence Law Center at