Friday, July 9, 2010
In a recent MSNBC story, the validity of the Syro Russian Orthodox Catholic Church as a "church" is under scrutiny. Questions are being raised about the true religious nature of the church, whether the self-proclaimed religious priests and archbishop were ever ordained, and the validity of diplomas being awarded by its affiliated university (formerly, the Notre Dame de Lafayette University of Colorado, whose assets were subsequently transferred to the Mercian Orthodox Catholic Church). A police detective in Duluth, Minnesota spent over a year investigating the church and its seminary then located in Minnesota (now in Ohio), documenting more than $40,000 in fraud alleged by five students. He presented his documented evidence to the Minnesota attorney general, the FBI, and the local prosecutor, all of which were reluctant to take on the case because it involved a church.
The article discusses the relatively non-evasive nature of income tax exemption law with respect to entities claiming to be bona fide churches, making it an area of potential abuse, as discussed by our fellow blogger and academic, Lloyd Mayer. In fact, it appears that the IRS did grant exempt status to this organization as a church. The article also reveals the slippery slope that law enforcement encounters when dealing with an entity claiming to be a church. At a minimum, it provides a fascinating case study and teaching opportunity for any nonprofit law professor.