Foreclosed and Forced Out

By Cathi Herrod, President, Center for Arizona Policy
One of the loudest attacks against SB 1062 – the CAP-supported bill which would have protected the right of every Arizonan to live and work according to their faith – was that there is no threat to religious freedom in America today. People can still go to church. Our freedom is intact.

But you and I know better. And we are seeing stories like these two more often that show why our First Freedom is in jeopardy:

La Paz County forcing closure of church that helps the homeless

The Church of the Isaiah 58 Project runs a homeless shelter out of its church in La Paz County. Along with providing medical care, shelter, and clean clothes, the church also provides nearly 13,000 meals to the County’s homeless every winter.

Under state law, the church qualified for an exemption from property taxes and filed the appropriate paperwork with the La Paz County Assessor. The assessor sat on the church’s paperwork for three years before granting a tax exemption and then only granted it for the years 2009 and later, leaving the church with back-taxes for 2007-2008 that it should not owe.

As the assessor wasn’t applying state law as intended by the policymakers, our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit defending the church in court. In 2013, Gov. Brewer vetoed a CAP-supported bill intended to clarify state law to ensure the assessor would properly apply the law.

Now, a church that operates on a $50,000 annual budget owes a tax lien of $68,000 by June 15 or it will be forced to close its doors. This is the definition of injustice. Since our nation’s founding, churches have been exempt from property taxes. Not only because of the very clear benefits they provide to our communities, but also because of the fundamental principle that the government should stay out of the business of the church.

If you would like to help the church by making a donation, you can click here. 

The intolerance of tolerance

You may recall right before the veto of SB 1062, 11 law professors, led by University of Virginia Law School Professor Douglas Laycock, sent a letter to Gov. Brewer in an attempt to clarify all of the misinformation and lies surrounding the bill.

What was most powerful about the letter was not all of the professors were conservatives or agreed with our stance on marriage. Professor Laycock is not regarded as a conservative. In fact, he would probably disagree with me on several issues – for instance, he believes marriage should be redefined.

But like those few who actually read the bill, Professor Laycock recognized that the media hype surrounding the bill had completely distorted its true impact. As a longtime legal expert on First Amendment law, Professor Laycock knows how laws like Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act were designed to operate and why they were necessary.

Writing that letter has not come without a cost. Since that time, the homosexual community has come after Professor Laycock – starting with an open letter, accusing Professor Laycock of harming homosexual students with his work.

They also filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking “among other things, university-funded travel expenses and cellphone records for the past two-and-a-half years,” and “a full, transparent accounting of the resources used by Professor Laycock which may be going towards halting the progress of the LGBT community and to erode the reproductive rights of women across the country.”

These types of intimidation tactics are designed to suppress speech and restrain diversity of opinion. You can only imagine that these accusers will only be satisfied if Professor Laycock completely renounces his work, or is forced out.

Hardly an exercise in true freedom.

Whether it’s Elane Photography, Hobby Lobby, the 2013 veto (mentioned above) or the 2014 veto of the CAP-supported bill (HB 2281) that would have ensured churches that rent their property don’t pay property tax, there is no shortage of stories that show that our religious freedom is in danger of being eradicated in the name of “tolerance.”

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