The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the church of the Mormon religion, has sued the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland because of the denial of the business rate exemptions given to buildings used for public religious worship. While the Church is registered as a private unlimited company in the United Kingdom, the House of Lords in 2008 held that the building could not qualify as a “place of public religious worship.”
The property at issue is a temple located in Preston, Lancashire. The Mormon religion sees their temples as extremely holy locations and believes that ceremonies held there are only for those worthy enough to be exposed to such profound theological observances. Therefore, only the most devout can be “recommended” and are able to enter these temples. In order to be considered, the individual must be honest, attentive to familial duties, ensue a faithful marriage, shun abusive conduct, live a healthy life style, among other things.
The exemption at issue involves the Local Government Finance Act of 1988 that allows places of public religious worship to be completely exempt from business tax rates on their property. Places used for charitable purposes are exempt from 80% of these rates, and this is the tax treatment that was subjected to the temple in Lancashire.
The House of Lords held that for a place to be considered a “place of public worship”, it must be open to the general public. While the services were attended by approximately 950 people a week, their exclusivity did not qualify the temple to be a place of public worship. In front of the European Court of Human Rights, the Church argued that such refusal to exempt the property was religious discrimination, in violation of Article 14’s prohibition of discrimination as applied to Article 9’s freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
The ECHR found that there was no violation of Article 9 and 14, holding the refusal to exempt the temple has little effect on the right of its Church members to practice their religion. It further pointed out that the Church need only pay 20% of the required property taxes and distinguished this case from others where religious organizations were severely financially burdened by the policies of the State.
Do you believe the ECHR ruled correctly? Do you think a religion should be treated differently from other religions if they require exclusive membership? If so, how come this is not considered discrimination?
In my opinion, the ECHR ruled incorrectly in this case. I don’t see how or why the Church should not get the tax exemption. It is a place of worship like any other place of worship that does get the tax exemption. Why is the Church any different? The criteria for the tax exemption should not be based on whether the place of worship is open to the general public. I can see the reasoning behind that requirement for business property tax purposes. I do not know everything there is to know about the tax exemption. However, I believe it is the wrong criteria. For a place of worship to get the tax exemption the requirement should only be that the place is actually and solely used only for religious/worship purposes. I think there is discrimination here because a religion is being treated differently from other religions based on its exclusivity. The bottom line is that it is still a religion. It should not be treated differently just because it has a unique or different set of practices. The Church may have a exclusive membership but it held services where 950 people attended a week. The Church may not be open to the general public per se but that attendance number can be argued to be much greater than some places of worship that is open to the general public. I believe the Church should have gotten the tax exemption in this case.
I think that the ECHR did not rule correctly in this matter. The main criteria should be whether the place is being used for solely religious purposes, which it is in this case. This Church should not be treated any differently than any other religious places just because it requires exclusive membership. The Court’s ruling discriminates against Mormons because the Church that they practice their religion in is not open to public. I do not think this should be a criteria in this case because the facts state that 950 people already attend per week, which I consider as enough to be qualified for the “place of public worship” criteria. What the Court decided is certainly a form of discrimination against this particular religion and its members. I certainly believe that the Church should have received tax exemption regardless of how it chose to serve its members.
I believe that the ECHR committed an egregious error in disallowing this tax exemption. Based on what was written above, they did not even provide satisfactory reason for refusing this tax exception. It was not as though the church was solely organized for the purpose of taking advantage of the tax break. The church although it has questionable membership practices is a church nonetheless. Its membership qualifications are not to be investigated nor considered by the court because courts are not the authority of what constitutes a “proper” religious institution and what does not. The point is the church has members, individuals that worship in that institution and view it as a place of worship. This is an overt discrimination in the manner that individuals choose to worship. This establishes a precedent that the government can just disallow exceptions just because they do not accept and/or understand the criterion of a religious institution.
I agree with the other writers before me. The ECHR erred in holding that the Church did not qualify as a “place of public worship”. I believe that the Church and any established Church, for that matter, is entitled to tax exemption. I understand that the Mormon Church “excludes” those who are not considered “devout”, but in my opinion, the court used the wrong standard to determine whether it is a “public place of worship”. The business tax exemption applies to those businesses and other places used for charitable purposes. The Church is used for charitable purposes as it provides spiritual growth and gives money to philanthropic organizations.
Therefore, the refusal of the tax exemption for the Mormon Church did violate Articles 14, discrimination as applied to Article 9’s freedom to thought, conscience, and religion. The Mormon Church was clearly discriminated against based on its practices of exclusivity of those non-devout individuals. No Church should be financially burdened based solely on its attendance. The Church is still a place where religion is practiced and exercised and therefore, should be entitled to the same benefits and obligations as any other Church that receives them.