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We’re a little late getting to this story but whatevs. George Michael of Lake Bluff, IL is suing the town and the Land of Lincoln after the tax exemption of his home was revoked.
You see, George has an extremely ill wife (who is also religious) and he turned his racquetball court into an Armenian Church so they could worship in the comfort of an extremely high ceiling with transparent back wall. His brother got ordained online to perform the services, and voilà! A tax-exempt house of worship. At first, the Illinois Dept. of Rev. was cool with it but a judge wasn’t as accommodating, claiming that the Michaels are trying to dodge property taxes of $80k a year.
The Michaels took exception with this, arguing that Lake Bluff would prefer a more WASPy community and sued them claiming their lack of WASPyness. The Trib reports him saying, “I don’t think they want anything other than Anglo-Saxons in Lake Bluff.”
Whether Lake Bluff is trying to keep the nabe WASPtacular is not clear although the lawsuit does allege that “[he] heard someone use an unspecified racial slur ‘toward’ his daughters as he dropped them off at school.”
Lake Bluff of course doesn’t buy it and claims that GM is just trying to pull a fast one, sayeth the town’s attorney, “The church’s establishment was an ‘inappropriate attempt to escape the same property tax responsibilities that every other property owner in Lake Bluff is required to comply with.’ ”
Maybe Lake Bluff is on to something because we find out that something that isn’t up for debate is George Micahel’s overdue taxes. A sum that he, admittedly, might not be on top of:
Michael, a former executive at a Chicago bank taken over by the federal government this spring, denied that he founded his in-home church to avoid paying about $80,000 in taxes a year. He is willing, he said, to settle the bill.
But his tax tab remains unpaid, said Lake County Treasurer Bob Skidmore. Michael, who runs a real estate company, owes more than $239,000 in taxes from 2007 through 2009 and missed his first due date in June, Skidmore said.
Asked about that, Michael said his mail service is unreliable and he hadn’t seen the bill.
“I better check into it,” he said.
Blaming the WASPy mail carrier. That’s classy.
Man who turned mansion into church alleges bias after losing tax break [CT via TaxProf Blog]
Racquetball Court Turned Church Loses Tax Exemption [Web CPA Debits & Credits]
You house of worship types are probably used to hearing politically toned sermons coming from your clergy(wo)man but a nonprofit holy house flat out telling its congregation, “Get out there and vote for [candidate soon-to-be caught up in a lurid sex scandal]!” would be venturing into some tricky waters.
Well, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State seems to have caught wind of a church who ventured. The AU claims that the Oasis Church in Los Angeles was openly supporting its Director of Social Justice’s, Alex Jones-Moreno run for reelection to the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood City Council on its website and on Twitter:
“Oasis Church’s appeals might have been innovative, but they still violate the law,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Federal law bars churches and other tax-exempt non-profits from electioneering. The IRS should crack down on these troubling tweets.”
We called the IRS in Los Angeles, who was not aware of the story and we were told the usual yarn of “we can’t comment on individual tax cases,” which we were expecting but the IRS PR folks are always nice people and we like a pleasant voice every now and again.
Anyhoo, we did stumble across the IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations, that says the following on page 5 (our bolding):
Churches and religious organizations, like many other charitable organizations, qualify for exemption from federal income tax under IRC section 501(c)(3) and are generally eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. To qualify for tax-exempt status, such an organization must meet the following requirements (covered in greater detail throughout this publication):
• the organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other
• net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder,
• no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation,
• the organization may not intervene in political campaigns, and
• the organization’s purposes and activities may not
be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.
Now whether Tweeting = “intervene” we’re not sure but Americans United certainly seems to think so. We’d invite any tax-exempt experts to weigh in.
A message left at Mr Jones-Moreno’s Oasis office was not immediately returned.