Friday, June 17, 2016
Article XII Sec. 2 of the Ohio Constitution permits the enactment of general laws exempting from taxation public school houses, houses used exclusively for public worship, institutions used exclusively for charitable purposes, and public property used exclusively for any public purpose. Pursuant to this authority, the Ohio Legislature enacted Ohio Revised Code (the “ORC”) §5709, “Taxable Property – Exemptions.”
Church tax exemptions are found in ORC §5709.07. The ORC defines “Church” to mean a fellowship of believers, congregation, society, corporation, convention, or association that is formed primarily or exclusively for religious purposes and that is not formed for the private profit of any person. R.C. §5709.07(D)(1). A church can be exempt from taxation under ORC §5709.07(A)(3) if the real property owned and operated by the church is “used ordinarily for public worship.” Beth Hamidrosh Hagodol v. Kinney, 16 Ohio App. 3d, 474 N.E.2d 658 (1984).
There are a few important mentionables: (1) A church that is both a religious institution and a charitable institution cannot receive both tax exemptions under ORC §5709.12 and §5709.121. Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Kinney, 19 Ohio App. 3d 267, 483 N.E.2d 1199, 1984 Ohio App. LEXIS 11301 (Ohio Ct. App., Montgomery County 1984); (2) Property which is owned by a church and leased to another church for church purposes is exempt from taxation. New Jerusalem Soc. v. Richardson, 10 Ohio N.P. 214 (1910); (3) Partial exemptions are allowed - that is, ORC §5713.04 permits real property to be split into “exempt” and “nonexempt” if those parts can be precisely delineated (i.e., first floor and second floor). Faith Fellowship Ministries, Inc. v. Limbach, 32 Ohio St. 3d 432, 513 N.E.2d 1340, 1987 Ohio LEXIS 403 (Ohio 1987); (4) Where a church is being reconstructed (i.e., torn down and rebuilt) and if within a reasonable period of time, the church does not lose its tax exemption. In re Ohave Scholem Congregation, 156 Ohio St. 183, 46 Ohio Op. 56, 101 N.E.2d 767 (1951); (5) Lastly, if a church purchases vacant land with the intent to use the property exclusively for public worship and there is evidence of prepared plans and available funds that establish this intent, then that land is entitled to a tax exemption. Peoples Faith Chapel, Inc. v. Limbach, 18 Ohio St. 3d 236, 480 N.E.2d 781, 1985 Ohio LEXIS 442 (Ohio 1985).
Traditionally, places of “public worship” are often thought of as churches, synagogues, and the like. In other words, they are physical, tangible places where people go to worship. However, the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that “public worship” can also extend to property owned to further gospel through music, preaching and teaching radio programs. Specifically, Christian Voice of Central Ohio, most famously known for their radio station, WCVO’s 104.9 “The River,” was granted a tax exemption for the property upon which their radio stations existed upon. In the opinion, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote that Christian Voice functioned as a place of “public worship” because the non-profit dedicates all its land and buildings to charity and religion -- it has all the necessary attributes of a church, minus the physical presence of a traditional church. Ultimately, the Court interpreted ORC §5709.07 broadly and held that institutions can embody and perpetuate the meaning of “public worship” even though they may not have the physical presence of a church on their property.
The information presented is for information purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice, and it should not be acted upon as such. It also does not constitute advertising or solicitation.
This post was prepared with the assistance of Lauren Augostini, a student at Capital University Law School.