Kansas town sued for taxing church attendance

ADF sues city of Mission for implementing new driveway tax
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MISSION, Kan. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of two churches in response to a city of Mission property tax disguised as a “driveway fee” to evade having to grant exemptions.

The driveway tax is similar to ones struck down by supreme courts in two other states and bills property owners based on the number of trips in and out of their driveways. The city of Mission has labeled the driveway tax as a “fee” and has therefore charged churches, non-profit organizations and charities ordinarily exempt from property taxes under state law.

“No one should be taxing church attendance, but that’s what this tax does: it punishes churches based on their attendance,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Cleverly disguising a tax as a fee is just another way to penalize churches and other non-profit organizations and charities by subverting their tax exemptions so the government can collect more money. This driveway tax is simply outrageous. Will we soon be seeing a ‘sidewalk tax’ based on the number of people who walk to church?”

In August, the Mission City Council adopted Ordinance No. 1332 to establish the so-called “Transportation Utility Fee.” All property within city limits that has improvements--such as buildings, landscaping, outside storage, or parking lots--is subject to the fee, which functions as an additional property tax.

The ordinance itself states that properties considered exempt from property taxes under state law, such as churches, non-profits and charities, are not exempt from the fee. The amount of the tax is calculated by estimating the average number of vehicle trips generated by a property. Single family homes are assessed a fixed rate of $72 per year, while 5.8 total weekly vehicle trips are estimated per worship facility seat to calculate the tax amount for churches.

ADF attorneys represent First Baptist Church of Mission and The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in the suit. The city assessed the church property and parsonage of First Baptist Church nearly $1,000 and St. Pius X Catholic Church $1,700 for the upcoming year.

“The government should not attempt to disguise taxes as ‘fees’ in order to eliminate property tax exemptions, when that money could be better spent by churches in caring for the poor.  It makes little sense to extract greater tribute from churches and charities when lost services mean a shift of the burden to the government anyway.  Not only is this scheme unlawful, it’s fiscally nonsensical,” Stanley said.

The Idaho and Florida supreme courts have ruled that similar “driveway fees” in those states are actually taxes and must be treated accordingly.

The lawsuit First Baptist Church of Mission v. City of Mission was filed with the District Court of Johnson County, Kansas. 
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.