The Freedom From Religion Foundation has helped stop an Iowa county board from giving preferential treatment to a church.
FFRF wrote to the Des Moines County Board of Supervisors after a report by a concerned member that the board was planning to vote on waiving a property tax exemption deadline for Harmony Bible Church.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the board from giving preferential treatment to a church over secular organizations,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne. “If the board has rejected similar waiver requests in the past, it must reject this request as well.”
Jayne noted that if the board were to grant Harmony Bible Church’s request, it may not deny requests to other nonprofits that miss the deadline in the future.
It was reported that Board Chairman Bob Beck said, “I’ve never gotten in trouble for saying it, but I wish our judges would hand out statements saying instead of going to jail, you have to take your family and go to Sunday school.”
FFRF expressed concern over the statement for giving a strong appearance that any preferential treatment to the church would have been motivated by a religious purpose.
FFRF urged the board to either strictly enforce its property tax exemption request deadline or to amend its policy to ensure that all nonprofits will receive the same treatment in the future.
After receiving FFRF’s letter, it was reported by local media that the Des Moines County Board of Supervisors canceled its vote because it no longer believed that it had the authority to ignore the deadline.
“The board chose to do the right thing,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “They’ve saved themselves from the problems that come with favoring religion over nonreligion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 30,000 members across the country, including in Iowa. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.