A pair of ministers seeking tax-exempt status should not be subject to a government “vetting” process, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court rejected a request for argument in the case of New Life in Christ Church c. City of Fredericksburg, which focused on whether Josh and Anacari Storms could claim a tax exemption for their residence.
The couple are college pastors who care for students at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., and organize Bible studies and worship events.
City officials had concluded they could not apply for tax-exempt status for a parsonage, saying the Storms family did not fit the exact classification of a minister according to the Presbyterian Church in America, which includes the requirement to be ordained and a ban on female ordination.
Gorsuch took offense that the country’s high court dismissed the appeal in a written dissent, arguing that the Storms should have been eligible for tax-exempt residency.
“The church tried to explain that the City had misunderstood its traditions and practices. The church responded that, yes, women can and do serve as ministers,” Gorsuch wrote.
“He recognized that ‘in order to deliver sermons,’ a minister in his tradition must be ordained, but nothing in his rules or in the Book of Church Order” prohibits a particular church from hiring ministers to serve as messengers and teachers of the faith “without ordination.”
Gorsuch, who was named to the court by former President Donald Trump in 2017, lamented that the city “continues to insist that a church’s religious rules are ‘subject to review’ by government officials. “.
“I would grant the petition and summarily reverse it. The First Amendment does not permit bureaucrats or judges to ‘subject ‘religious beliefs’ to scrutiny. On this matter, the Court has spoken clearly and consistently for many years,” he added.
“The framers of our Constitution were acutely aware of how governments in Europe had sought to control and manipulate religious practices and churches. They decided that America would be different.
Gorsuch concluded that if he considered the New life case “a small”, he would “correct” the previous decision. He stressed that “state-sponsored efforts to ‘submit’ religious beliefs to ‘verification’ have no place in a free country.”
Last August, the First Liberty Institute, the Christian Legal Society, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLC filed a petition with the Supreme Court on behalf of New Life in Christ Church after the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the complaint against the city for refusing the tax. exempt status.
“For more than 150 years, the Court has confirmed that civil authorities may not challenge religious organizations on ‘questions of discipline, faith, ecclesiastical rule, custom or law,'” the petition states.
“It is a fundamental premise of our constitutional system that religious organizations enjoy “the power to decide for themselves, without interference from the state, matters of church government as well as those of faith and Doctrine”.
Lawyers representing the city argued that the precedent for legally defining a minister has been individuals who are ordained and lead a congregation.
“It is not a question of who can be a minister of the petitioner’s church or of the free exercise of religion”, the city’s legal filing said.
“Instead, this case is about a court’s authority to determine the relevant facts, based on the evidence, when deciding a church’s claim for Virginia tax exemption for residency. of the minister of the church.”