Friday, March 4, 2011
One of the more famous rulings to come from the IRS in the tax-exemption world was a General Counsel's Memorandum issued in 1977 (GCM 36993) that held that a coven of witches constituted both a "religious organization" and a "church" for purposes of tax exemption under Code Section 501(c)(3) (the two terms, by the way, are not synonymous in tax law; "churches" are a subset of "religious organizations" for purposes of tax exemption; status as a "church" is harder to establish than status as a religious organization, and "churches" have greater benefits under the tax laws - for example, they do not have to file a form 990, but a non-church "religious organization" does have to file a 990).
So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that the witches of Catskill, NY, are closing in on a victory in a property tax dispute with Greene County. It seems that Catskill denied tax exemption to the Maetreum of Cybele, a coven of witches, for property that the Maetreum owns and uses for worship services and as housing for priestesses. The Maetreum sued, and in an initial decision denying the town's motion to dismiss, the presiding judge basically slammed the town for discriminatory behavior in denying exemption. Though the witches of Catskill haven't actually won exemption yet (this was a motion to dismiss, not a final judgment on the merits) they seem to have justice on their side.
And well it should be. I am not all all sure religious organizations should get tax exemption at all (I have opined before that churches are often little more than private clubs for believers); but if we are going to give it to some religions, we are bound to give it to all. Pagan worship, after all, is a far older form of religion than Christianity.