Action Alert

Tell Wisconsin legislators not to give churches preferential tax treatment

 

Religious institutions seem to be always seeking favorable official treatment.

Churches are again lobbying the Wisconsin Legislature to create a special property tax exemption that removes more property from the tax rolls. Assembly Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 would allow churches to become commercial landlords. Last year FFRF opposed the bill, while churches like the Archdiocese of Milwaukee registered in support of it. Please use our automated system below to contact your legislators today and tell them to oppose these bills.

The bills single out property owned by a “church or religious association or institution” for tax exemption, even if the church profits off of the rental. Other nonprofit entities in Wisconsin are excluded from receiving the same benefit. This bill would allow churches and religious nonprofits, but not secular nonprofits, to operate tax-exempt rental properties for the purpose of generating income. As the city of Milwaukee has pointed out, the current law ensures that tax-exempt organizations do not become “real estate investors.”

More importantly, the bills are unconstitutional. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from giving preferential tax treatment to religious entities. Because only churches would benefit from the law (and not all nonprofits), the bill would fail scrutiny under both the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions.

The city of Milwaukee estimates that it would lose an additional $6.7 million to its tax base, which would result in more than $175,000 reduction in tax revenue each year. Of course, if the exemption is added, many more churches may seek to become commercial landlords.

The impact on taxation of other communities is not known. With the expansion of voucher schools across Wisconsin, churches may seek to take advantage and acquire new properties for the purpose of renting them to pop-up voucher schools.

These bills were scheduled for public hearings today, Jan. 19, but those hearings have been postponed. We must voice opposition before the bills are rammed through the Legislature.

Tell your legislators to oppose these unconstitutional bills! Click on the red “Take Action” link below to contact your state legislators and ask them to oppose these bills. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. Personalized messages are always the most effective way to reach your lawmakers!

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