Case Surrounds Whether Tenn. Gov't Can Define a 'Ministry'

A suit brought by a Tennessee church against a state government department regarding what constituted a "ministry" got its day in court.

Christ Church Pentecostal of Nashville made arguments against the Tennessee Board of Equalization in a legal hearing on Wednesday morning in front of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Division, Davidson County. At issue is whether or not the Board should have denied Christ Church tax exempt status for several facilities on its property that the Board decided were not an integral component to their ministries.

Dan Scott, pastor at Christ Church, told The Christian Post that the Board deemed their bookstore and their gymnasium as taxable entities because the bookstore had some literature that was not "related to our religious purpose" and the gym was seen as competing with other gymnasiums in the area.

"We have since turned our gym over to the YMCA and removed literature that is not very clearly related to a religious bookstore," said Scott, adding that "The church never turned a profit on either of these entities; they were always subsidized."

In March 2007, Davidson County denied Christ Church their exemption for the two facilities. Christ Church sued, with an administrative judge ruling in November 2009 against the church. However, in the judge's ruling, Christ Church still would get a 50 percent exemption for the gym.

In September 2011, the Alliance Defending Freedom appealed on the church's behalf, arguing that non-religious non-profits get tax exemptions similar to one Christ Church sought.

"Churches shouldn't be treated differently than other entities in Tennessee – such as college bookstores, family wellness centers, and hospital gift shops – that are tax exempt by law," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley in a statement.

"Neither the bookstore nor the gym are operated for any other reason than ministry and outreach to the community."

Scott of Christ Church told CP that he was happy that the ADF was helping his church, having aided them in their suit from the first hearing onward.

"They are some of the most gracious, Christ-like and capable advocates a person would ever hope for. They know the law, the Christian faith and carry themselves in an admirable way," said Scott.

"We would have been utterly in the dark, even with our excellent local lawyers. ADF knows federal, constitutional law. That's really important in this case."

The Tennessee State Board of Equalization did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.