Trinity Springs Baptist
Church Wins Tax Case
Greg J. Dixon
Trinity Springs Baptist
Church in Martin County, Indiana, a 157 year old church just won a great
victory, not only for Trinity Springs, but for all of the unregistered churches
of Indiana and the Biblical Law Center of Indianapolis that prepared the
case. It no doubt will eventually help
in the religious freedom arena across the land.
The ruling was given by the Indiana Tax Review Board. Pastor Martin Jones represented the
congregation in a hearing at the Court House in Shoals, Indiana on February 11,
before a hearing judge, in a humble and professional manner, according to those
present, who had filled the hearing room.
This is a great victory that God has wrought and the congregation at
Trinity Springs is giving all praise to the Lord Jesus Christ for this great
victory for religious liberty. Trinity
Springs had refused to fill out property tax forms that declared their church
buildings including their place of worship to be a “commercial theater” and
also to confess that the State was Lord over the church rather than the Lord
Jesus Christ who purchased “It” with “His own blood.” Following are some of the comments that the
Tax Board of Review made in recording their decision.
OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Trinity Springs Baptist Church is a New Testament
Church in the Anabaptist tradition. The subject property was built as a church
in 1856 and has been used exclusively as a church since that time. Until now,
it has always been exempt from property taxation. Jones testimony.
A Letter of Notification stating the sole purpose of
the property was for worship and explaining that filing an exemption
application was against the Church's religious precepts was accepted and filed
by the Assessor on June 5, 2006. Petitioner Exhibit C; Jones testimony.
In 2008, the Martin County Assessor issued a Real
Estate Tax Statement for Trinity Springs Baptist Church showing no tax due.
The Church appealed the matter to the PTABOA. The
final adjudication from the PTABOA on July 13,2013, included the statement,
"The PTABOA denied the letter that was presented. No form answering the
specific questions was filed., no Articles of Incorporation or By-laws were
filed and no financial statements were filed." Petitioner's Summary of the
The Church believes in separation of church and
state. The Church cannot pay a tax of any kind for it would constitute a sin
against God and constitute a recognition of another sovereign greater than
Jesus Christ over the Church, its establishment, its properties, its
ministries, its internal affairs, and its government. For the same reason, the
Church cannot file an application for exemption from property taxation pursuant
to Indiana Code section 6-1.1-11-3 and 3.5 because the filing of such
application would operate as recognition of the authority of civil government
to tax the Church.
The Church presented their cause to the Governor of
Indiana 25 years ago. As a .result, the Governor instructed those in their
respective offices to write a memorandum to all County Assessors on behalf of
their unregistered churches. The memo allowed for a letter to be submitted
during the filing period stating that the affected organization was unable to
complete the form due to religious beliefs. For 25 years, churches have been
able to get religious exemptions following this format. This is the first time
a Letter of Notification has been denied by an assessor. Jones Testimony.
The law granting the religious exemption in favor of
Trinity Springs Baptist Church is overwhelming. Petitioner directs the Board's
attention to the following: State of Indiana Constitution, Bill of Rights,
Article I, Sections 1,2,3, and 4; United States Constitution Bill of Rights, 1st
Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. .. "); Indiana Code §
6-1.1-11-3 and 3.5 ("accommodation for religiously based objections to
statutory requirement, when reasonable alternatives are available, i.e.
notification"); and a Memorandum from the State Board of Tax Commissioners
regarding exemptions for religious property. Petitioner's Summary of the
Issues. Jones Testimony.
As applied, the state statutes are unconstitutional,
in that they deprive the congregation of their 1st Amendment right to the free
exercise of their religion The 1st Amendment of the Constitution compels the
government to accommodate a religiously based objection to the statutory
requirement. Sherbert v. Verner, Review Board, Inc. Empl. Sec Div., 450 U.S. 67
L. Ed. 624, 101 S. Ct. 1425 (1981)..
The 1st Amendment of the Constitution and the
Indiana Bill of Rights require the State to accommodate religiously based
objections to statutory requirements when reasonable alternatives are
available. Reasonable alternatives to the filing of an application are
available here as evidenced by the 1989 memo from the State Board of Tax
Commissioners. Unquestionably, the property would qualify for exemption if
Trinity Springs Baptist church was organized as a state corporation or
The Letter of Notification filed in 2006 was
accepted by the Assessor at that time. The law is clear that a church is not
required to file for an exemption again unless it changes ownership or its use.
In this case, Trinity Springs Baptist Church has not changed ownership or its
use. Jones testimony.
For 25 years, any property where Pastor Greg A.
Dixon has started a church, the property has been exempt from property taxes.
For example, over the past 13 years, Pastor Dixon has started 19 churches,
mostly in the City of Indianapolis. Each year, the church sends a letter to
Marion County requesting a religious exemption for the real and personal
property. Marion County has always accommodated our faith and he hopes this
court will do the same. Dixon testimony.
County Assessor McGuire Testimony
There is no intent to harass anyone. The Assessor is
acting in compliance with the Department of Local Government Finance
requirements. Churches are required to file the proper paperwork to receive a
property tax exemption. Trinity Springs Baptist Church did not file for an
exemption, so its letter was denied. McGuire testimony.
2009, there was a memorandum stating that if the PTABOA approved the
organization as a non-profit, the organization no longer had to flle after
that. However, the last time the Church filed, the PTABOA denied the exemption.
Because there were so many applications at that time, there was a mix-up and
she signed the approval in error. McGuire testimony.
Any church building in Indiana is to be assessed as
a theater according to the Department of Local Government Finance. McGuire
rebuttal to Petitioner's Summary of Issues.
Indiana Code section 6-1.1-1 0-1 6(a) states
"All or part of a building is exempt from property taxation if it is
owned, occupied, and used by a person for educational, literary, scientific,
religious, or charitable purposes." Further, "a tract of land ... is
exempt from property taxation if: (I) a building that is exempt under
subsection (a) or (b) is situated on it; [or] (2) a parking lot or structure
that serves a building referred in subdivision (I) is situated on it."
Ind. Code § 6-l.1-10-I6(c).
In this case, there is no dispute that the property
is owned, occupied and used for religious purposes. It has always been a
church, and has always received an exemption, Until 2013 when the Assessor
denied the exemption based on the Church's alleged failure to file what the
Assessor deemed to be a proper exemption application. To the extent the
Assessor disputes this fact, it is only because she claims that she incorrectly
granted an exemption to the Church in 2009 due to a paperwork error.'
Regardless of the reason the Assessor denied the
exemption application in 2013, she erred in doing so. In 2006, the Assessor
granted the Petitioner an exemption based on the Letter of Notification. The
Letter of Notification is an acceptable mechanism for claiming a religious
exemption according to the State Board of Tax Commissioners. Petitioner Exhibit
E. Under Indiana Code section 6-1.l-11A(d), the Church was not required to file
an application for 2013 Because Petitioner was not required to file an
application and the property met all of the other requirements of Indiana Code section 6l.l-11 A, the PTABOA
erroneously denied the exemption.
The Petitioner proved it was entitled to a property
tax exemption. The Respondent failed to rebut the Petitioner's case. The Board
finds for the Petitioner.
In accordance with the above findings and
conclusions, the Board grants the Petitioner's exemption on its real and
Commissioner, Indiana Board of Tax Review
To read two other stories filed about the Trinity
Springs case go to the following sites:
Trinity Springs Hearing Feb. 11 – 1:15 pm Shoals,