Gorsuch writes scathing dissent in church tax case, saying religious beliefs are not subject to ‘verification’

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Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a searing dissent in a case involving church taxation, warning against allowing government officials to define true religious beliefs.

“The First Amendment does not allow bureaucrats or judges to ‘subject’ religious beliefs to ‘verification,'” Gorsuch said. wrote in his dissent released on Tuesday. “On this subject, the Court has spoken clearly and consistently for many years.”

Neil Gorsuch, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

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At stake was the court’s decision in Trustees of the New Life in Christ Church c. City of Fredericksburg, Virginiawhich centered on the city’s decision to deny a Presbyterian church in Fredericksburg a tax exemption for housing used by ministers on the church’s campus.

The city argued that the church had misunderstood its own religious doctrine, citing the Book of Order of the Church of the Presbyterian Church in America to point out that youth ministers were not ordained.

Supreme Court building in Washington

Supreme Court building in Washington
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

But the church countered that the couple were subordinate ministers who had the task of raising awareness of a certain group, which they said should still benefit from the tax exemption.

The New Life in Christ Church took their case to the highest court in the land, with judges refusing to hear the case which sought to overturn a decision by a court in the state of Virginia.

But Gorsuch vehemently opposed the decision, arguing that the Constitution protects religious institutions from being manipulated by government officials.

“In this country, we would not subscribe to the ‘arrogant claim’ that secular officials can serve as a ‘competent judge'[s] of religious truth,” Gorsuch wrote.

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Seated from left are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, standing from left are Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

Seated from left are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, standing from left are Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.
(Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

The judge concluded by expressing his hope that similar cases would not spread across the country, arguing that the court should have taken the opportunity to rule on the matter now.

“This case may be minor, and it is to be hoped that the error here is so obvious that it is unlikely to be repeated any time soon,” Gorsuch wrote. “But I would correct it. Bureaucratic efforts to ‘submit’ religious beliefs to ‘verification’ have no place in a free country.”