You Heard, You Responded – And a Church Is Saved
- By Alan Sears
- Posted Jun 10, 2014
- No Comments »
It taxes the imagination of any reasonable person to understand what the property assessor of La Paz County, Arizona, has against one little desert church near the California border.
For the last seven years, Church of the Isaiah 58 Project of Arizona has been providing showers, clothing, job counseling, transportation, and approximately 13,000 meals every winter season to the hundreds of homeless who pass through Quartzsite, seeking relief from the cold and direction for their lives.
Taking inspiration from its theme verses, Isaiah 58:7,10, the church survives on a shoestring budget of about $50,000 a year, brought in mostly from members’ gifts and community donations. Local officials praise the church and its work, citing it as a key partner in their efforts to respond to the needs of impoverished people at this busy Southwest crossroads. Those efforts are strengthened by the fact that, as a church, the Isaiah 58 Project doesn’t have to pay taxes – a fact affirmed by both state law and the Arizona Department of Revenue.
But not by the county property assessor. When the newly-formed church filed its paperwork for an exemption from property taxes, the assessor sat on the application for three years. He then granted the exemption – but didn’t make it retroactive. The church, he said, owed the county taxes for the three years he dithered over their exemption … $68,000, altogether, in back taxes and penalties, which is more than the church’s annual budget.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have been representing the church in a lawsuit aimed at protesting the illegal assessment. But the Arizona courts – adding insult to injury – have ruled that the church has to actually pay the taxes before it can legally protest them. When the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case on appeal earlier this year, the church faced foreclosure unless it could come up with the tax money quickly.
“Churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished by the government when they’ve not done anything wrong, but that’s precisely what is happening to this church,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “If La Paz County officials have their way, this church will lose everything.”
But GOOD NEWS: after ADF helped put out the word on social media about what was happening with the Isaiah 58 congregation, many, many, many of you came forward not only with your faithful prayers, but with generous gifts of support for the church. And, as of this week, the church now has the funds it needs to pay off its back taxes and proceed with the lawsuit! (If we win the case in court, all the tax monies should eventually be refunded.)
“After an outpouring of support from Christians across the country, this church won’t have to shut its doors and discontinue its crucial ministry,” Stanley says. “Now we can move forward and challenge the unjust actions of one state official who has illegally impeded the church’s efforts to help the least fortunate in a struggling community.”
I hope you will join me in praying as fervently for a just end to the lawsuit as you have for the church’s financial crisis. And that you’ll join me, too, in giving thanks for all of those who – through their generous gifts to help the people of Isaiah 58 – have invested substantially in religious freedom for all Americans.
Author: Alan Sears