Church’s Tax Exemption Suit Against Milwaukee May Proceed
The City of Milwaukee has for the past three years charged the Jerusalem Empowered African Methodist Episcopal Church (“JEAMEC”), a small congregation on the city’s north side, property taxes on their four-acre parcel of land. The church has repeatedly asked for a tax exemption, and has been repeatedly denied, because in the city’s opinion two acres of that parcel aren’t “necessary” for the church, and therefore can be taxed.
In July of last year, WILL filed a lawsuit on the church’s behalf arguing that the city is unlawfully taxing their property. WILL argues that the land is not only useful to the church, but vital and necessary to its mission of service, outreach, and evangelism to the greater Milwaukee community, and furthermore that other churches in the city with similar plots of land aren’t being taxed.
The city moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the church had to pay that disputed tax before it could file a lawsuit. At a hearing yesterday, Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Christopher R. Foley held that although the law does place that requirement on the church, the church may challenge the constitutionality of that requirement. JEAMEC argues that the “pay first” requirement deprives it of due process, equal protection, and a right to a remedy because it is unable to pay the disputed tax.
“We’re glad that the court is allowing our case to go forward,” said Tom Kamenick, associate counsel at WILL, who argued the hearing. “The judge made it clear that our claims are not frivolous, and we will have an opportunity to show that denying access to the courts to a church that can’t first pay tens of thousands of dollars in unlawful taxes violates fundamental constitutional rights.”
More information about the case can be found on the JEAMEC v. Milwaukee page of our website.