United Methodists Lose Tax Break Over Gay Union Issue

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Sep 20, 2007.

  1. Principessa

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    Jesus Christ! :mad: I've barely been out of New Jersey 3 months and already people are acting stupid without me to control them. :tongue:

    Group Loses Tax Break Over Gay Union Issue

    By JILL P. CAPUZZO
    New York Times - September 18, 2007

    A boardwalk pavilion in the seaside town of Ocean Grove, N.J., that has been at the center of a battle over gay civil union ceremonies has lost its tax-exempt status because the state ruled it no longer met the requirements as a place open to all members of the public.

    In a letter to the administrator of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist organization that owns the pavilion property, the state commissioner of environmental protection, Lisa Jackson, declined to recertify the pavilion as eligible for a real estate tax exemption it has enjoyed since 1989 under the state’s Green Acres Program, but did renew the tax-exempt status of the rest of the boardwalk and the beach, also owned by the association.

    The issue arose after the association, which has owned the land, the beach and 1,000 feet of the sea itself since 1870, rejected the requests of two lesbian couples to have their civil union ceremonies at the Boardwalk Pavilion.
    The couples complained to the State Division on Civil Rights, which began a discrimination investigation. The association sued the state, claiming that the investigation violated its First Amendment rights because civil unions were contrary to the beliefs of the United Methodist Church.
    A federal district court judge refused last month to halt the investigation.

    In a letter dated Saturday that revoked the longstanding certification, Ms. Jackson, the environmental protection commissioner, wrote, “It is clear that the pavilion is not open to all persons on an equal basis.”

    The administrator of the Camp Meeting Association, Scott Hoffman, said in a written statement that “the Camp Meeting is reviewing the letter. However, it is worth noting that over 99 percent of the Camp Meeting’s land was recertified as tax-exempt.”

    Every three years since 1989, the association has applied for, and received, tax exemptions for its boardwalk, beach and the pavilion under the Green Acres Program, designed to encourage the use of privately owned lands for public recreation and conservation. This is the first time any part of its application has been turned down.

    Facing a deadline of last Saturday mandated by the Green Acres rules, Ms. Jackson said it was important to make clear where her department stood on the definition of open property.

    “When people hear the words ‘open space,’ we want them to think not just of open air and land, but that it is open to all people,” said Ms. Jackson. “And when the public subsidizes it with tax breaks, it goes with the expectation that it is not going to be parsed out, whether it be by activity or any particular beliefs.”

    The tax assessor in Neptune Township, where Ocean Grove is located, said he could not estimate how much more tax the association might have to pay because of the changed status of the pavilion. When the lawsuit was filed against the state last month, the assessor, Bernard Haney, estimated that the association was saving about $500,000 a year because of all of its Green Acres exemptions.
    In a letter sent to the state last week arguing that the tax-exempt status of the Pavilion, should be retained, Michael Behrens, the association’s lawyer, said that the use of the open-air pavilion had not changed since it was first included in the Green Acres Program 18 years ago.

    The pavilion, which is used largely for Sunday church services and youth ministry programs, has also been a place where boardwalk strollers are welcome to sit and relax. “But never was the general public granted unfettered right to use the pavilion in any way it chooses (e.g., to reserve it for an exclusive use such as a civil union ceremony),” Mr. Behrens wrote.

    The case has drawn national attention, in part because Ocean Grove has long been considered a community that embraced gay residents. Steven Goldstein, executive director of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey gay rights organization, said he has gotten more e-mail messages on this issue than on any other cause his group has taken up.

    “I’m hearing from gay people all over the country who thought Ocean Grove was the leading light for gay tolerance and that’s not the case anymore,” Mr. Goldstein said.


    Speaking as a United Methodist who grew up 20 minutes from Ocean Grove and has worshipped there frequently over the years I am a bit puzzled as to when Ocean Grove became a leading light for gay tolerance. I have a few gay and straight friends that live there but Ocean Grove is right next to Asbury Park which has pretty much been a gay enclave for 30 years now. More importantly while there are some towns in NJ which still have active KKK; the fact that Ocean Grove doesn't, does not mean it is a leading light for gay tolerance.

    I'm riding the fence on this one. Part of me says, "what happend to the separation of church and state?" The other side is in favor of gay unions and thinks people should be able to get hitched wherever they please. :confused::redface:

    What say you LPSG?
     
  2. Osiris

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    I am straight, I am Catholic, I have a good starter family (4 kids), I have a gay older brother.

    I break with the church over this issue. Yeah Adam and Steve isn't right for me, but look at how many people go through life wanting someone and not getting that person because of some religious or political rigamoroll. I say let there be gay marriage. As you said, life is too short to hate.
     
  3. Freddie53

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    I am very much for the rights of gays to live without discrimination.

    I don't know what the tax rules in that state are. In my state, non profit organizations don't pay taxes. So, here in my state, I would say that that Assembly grounds used primarily for religious events shouldn't be told to violate the church's religious beliefs on their own property to keep their non profit status that ALL churches have here in my state.

    However, if in that state churches pay taxes on property used for religous purposes then yes, that Assembly should pay taxes as it is getting its tax relief for allowing the property to be used for public purposes.

    Can someone enlighten us on the laws in that state?
     
  4. davidjh7

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    This is a toughie for me, as I don;t think ANY church should be allowed tax exempt status---ever. The constitution guarantees the right of freedom of worship. It does not guarantee the right to make a profit off of God without paying what everybody else pays for their profits. But, that issue aside, I would like to know if they EVER allowed a wedding in that pavillion. If they had, then they are applying their status for public use unequally, and should lose status. If they apply the rule equally to everybody, then they shouldn;t lose their status. My take on it, anyway--this is more a legal issue than a religious one, IMHO.
     
  5. DC_DEEP

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    David, dahling, I could not have worded a response better!

    I have nothing against churches, per se, but tend to think that they should not have 501 (c)(3) status (or whatever the tax-exempt status is for churches...). And while I agree that any church, as a non-government entity, is free to choose its own teachings and dogmas, I certainly don't think that an "intolerant" policy (and I don't mean just intolerant of gays...) should be rewarded by tax exemption.

    Too many churches want to have their cake, and eat it, too.
     
  6. Mem

    Mem
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    I heard about this too, I'm glad that they can not discriminate and hide under religious prejudice. How ungodly of them.
     
  7. agnslz

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    I hate to be an echo, but I completely agree with davidjh7 and DC_DEEP's posts.
     
  8. Freddie53

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    I'm not disagreeing with those who posted. It is just that it is a more complex issue than this appears to be.

    Taxes in itself is a major issue. I don't think churches or any non profit entity should pay taxes on contributions to provide servies that the organization provides. If I give a $100 to the Red Cross, Red Cross shouldn't have to pay a percentage of that to the government as long as it is used for the purpose for which I gave it.

    However, most states also don't tax the assets that make money for the organization. Some non profits own a publishing company and retail stores or they may resource that out. If real profits are made, they should be taxed. If a church doesn't want to pay taxes on its profits in its book stores, then lower the prices so the church members can buy the books cheaper and save money.

    The second tax is property taxes. I don't have a problem with all non profit organizations being tax exempt on property used for the purpose of that non profit organization. However, if Lady Snodgrass left a chunk of prime real estate in Manhattan which generates income for the non profit organization, the non profit organization should pay taxes on that land as it is a busienss whose purpose is to make a profit.

    The Consitution says favor or disfavor or words to that effect. All non profit organizations should have to met the same standards to have a tax exempt status. That includes hospitals that are non profit. The Red Cross, religious organizations etc.

    As for whether the church should be required to allow that same sex ceremony, it all depends on the tax structure of that state and what laws affect non profit organizations to keep non profit status.

    I can understand the church's position though I am United Methodist and I have no problem with the union ceremony taking place.

    If I were a member of that court, I can not say how I would have voted as I don't know the laws of that state. In a situation like this, all the laws concerning non profit organizations have to apply in all cases.
     
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