Tennessee Mega-Church Fights Taxation Effort

A mega-church in South Nashville says it doesn’t want to pay taxes on any of its property, including a bookstore, cafe and fitness center that are run as businesses and are open to the public.

Christ Church, which occupies a 110,000-square-foot property and has 2,600 members, is in state court battling a tax assessor’s claim that it should pay taxes on the portions of its property that are used as businesses.

Church officials say the bookstore, cafe and fitness center are part of their religious mission. They argue that the facilities are used as a draw to attract people who might not otherwise go to a traditional church.

Local officials disagree. Assistant Metropolitan Attorney Jeff Campbell says state law exempts only “purely” religious activities from taxation, reported the Nashville Tennessean.

Campbell pointed out that the bookstore sells many non-religious items, such as books by politicians and celebrities that don’t deal exclusively with religious themes. He also asserted that no religious activities take place at the fitness center.

“There’s no such thing as a faith-based push-up,” Campbell told the Tennessean. “No one is casting doubt on the sincerity of their beliefs, but not every instance of religious outreach is entitled to the exemption…. I think there was an appropriate balancing here.”

The church has an assessed value of $24 million. If the assessment stands, it would have to pay taxes on about $3 million of its property. That figure would amount to between $50,000 and $75,000 per year.

The church’s lawsuit is pending in Davidson County Chancery Court.