WILL Challenges Tax Exemption Denial on Behalf of Local Church

 In Case Updates, JEAMEC v. Milwaukee

Jerusalem Empowered African Methodist Episcopal Church (“JEAMEC”) is a church of faithful worshipers in Milwaukee. They’ve gathered as a congregation since 2003, and in 2008 they were able to purchase the church where they had been holding services from a Lutheran congregation in northwestern Milwaukee.

They weren’t in their new church long, however, before the City came knocking on their demanding thousands of dollars in new property taxes. The church’s parcel is a mere 4.4 acres, and the city thinks that almost half of that lot – a field where the church holds numerous events – should be taxed because it isn’t “necessary” for the church’s mission.

By cataloguing the numerous activities JEAMEC hosts on this “excess” land, WILL hopes to convince the City that this 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. Some events held by the church on that land include:

  • Football and soccer practice
  • Summer bible camp
  • Summer bible study
  • Summer car wash & barbecue
  • Sunday morning outdoor worship
  • An annual health fair
  • An annual back-to-school supply drive
  • A community youth crime prevention program

WILL is also arguing that many other nearby churches own just as much or even more land they aren’t being taxed for. “The city may be looking for new sources of revenue,” explains Mike Fischer, senior counsel for WILL, “but taxing our churches is not the answer. Small congregations like JEAMEC simply will be devastated. Even larger and more well-established congregations will find it more difficult to carry out their religious missions.”

We believe that churches should be free to pursue their missions without concern that the government will decide how best they should manage their property.  A community of faith is “like radar that sees through fog,” said Sandra Banks, Pastor of JEAMEC, “a liberating transition empowering lives for change.”

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