Tuesday, March 04, 2014

European Court of Human Rights Upholds British Refusal To Treat Mormon Temple As Place of Public Worship For Tax Purposes

In Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints v. United Kingdom, (ECHR, March 4, 2014), the European Court of Human Rights, Fourth Section, held that Britain did not violate the non-discrimination provisions of Art. 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, nor the freedom of conscience and religion provisions of Art. 9, when it held that a Mormon Temple was subject to a reduced tax rate as a place used for charitable purposes, but was not entitled to the full exemption from property taxes that is available to places of "public religious worship."  Entry to the Temple is limited to devout Church members who hold a "recommend" from the bishop. The Church's stake center, with its chapel, hall and ancillary rooms, on the same site had been granted the full exemption since entry to them was not limited. In finding no discrimination, the Court said in part:
To establish differential treatment, the applicant Church relied on the argument that, because of the nature of its doctrine, which holds that access to the temple should be restricted to its most devout members who hold a current “recommend”, the law ... provided a lower fiscal advantage to the Mormon Church than to such other faiths as to not restrict access to any of their places of worship.... [I]t is open to doubt whether the refusal to accord an exemption in respect of the applicant Church’s temple in Preston gave rise to any difference of treatment of comparable groups, given that the tax law in question applied in the same way to, and produced the same result in relation to, all religious organisations, including the Church of England in respect of its private chapels. Neither is the Court convinced that the applicant Church was in a significantly different position from other churches ... so as to call for differential treatment ..., since other faiths likewise do not allow access of the public to certain of their places of worship for doctrinal reasons.
Law & Religion UK reports on the decision. [Thanks To Paul DeMello, Jr. for the lead.]