Action Alert

Church must pay its fair share of taxes!

Stop Wis. budget amendment favoring one Catholic church

Freethought Hall is located kitty-corner from land owned by a Catholic Church in Madison, Wis. Over the years we’ve been monitoring the St. Raphael Congregation’s fight against the city over paying their fair share of property tax on undeveloped property owned by the church. It has attempted to circumvent paying taxes by putting in landscaping that includes a walking path with stone markers designating the Stations of the Cross. Having lost its battle with the city in court, the church hired a lobbyist to open up loophole in the proposed state budget.

Under Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent, exempt property must include buildings that are used for exempt purposes. A Dane County circuit judge last year rightfully ruled against the church’s attempt to evade paying its taxes with its phony “park.”

Now, the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee has proposed a budget amendment to provide a property tax exemption just for St. Raphael’s Congregation. This targeted tax exemption and windfall to one Catholic church violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Wisconsin Constitution.

The amendment could be voted upon anytime between tomorrow and Sept. 21, so please act now! Tell your state representatives that it is unconstitutional for the state legislature to grant special tax exemptions that apply only to churches.

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St. Raphael’s owns undeveloped property and prime real estate in downtown Madison, and has fought the city of Madison over the collection of property taxes since 2012. The church, under protest, has paid nearly $100,000 each year in taxes on its lot, which is assessed at over $4 million.

In the 12 years since St. Raphael’s church burned down, the church has not worked to replace it although it received $6.4 million in insurance proceeds. Instead of building on the lot, St. Raphael’s spent $2 million to purchase a neighboring property on the tax rolls, which it razed.

The Joint Finance Committee budget amendment is clearly tailored to apply to St. Raphael’s. It would grant a special tax exemption to property owned by “churches and religious associations” if they intend to “replace a building destroyed by fire, natural disaster, or criminal act.” The exemption would apply for 25 years.

The church has said publicly that it would like to build a $50 million cathedral on the lot. If the Joint Finance Committee budget bill passes, the church could delay building for another 12 years and stiff Madison taxpayers with more than $1.2 million in added taxes.

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