In a surprising break with tradition, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the constitutionality of exempting all church property from taxation.

The case is unusual. New York City attorney Frederick Walz contends that Article 16 of the New York State constitution, which exempts churches from real estate taxes, is increasing his own property taxes, thus compelling him to support churches. This, Walz maintains, violates the right of religious freedom which the United States Constitution guarantees him.

Walz’s property consists of a 22-by-29-foot plot, having no buildings and no street access, on Staten Island. This he purchased in June of 1967, just before beginning his litigation against church property-tax exemption. It is assessed at $100 and is taxed $5.24 yearly.

Walz himself is something of an enigma. Shunning all contact with the public, he resides in an obscure section of the Bronx. He did not appear in the three preceding trials in New York State courts (all of which were decided against him), preferring to submit his arguments in writing. He did not reveal whether he will appear personally before the Supreme Court, which requires oral arguments.

Walz said he was a “Christian and not a member of any religious organization … rejecting them as hostile.” His secretary informed CHRISTIANITY TODAY that “Mr. Walz cannot be reached by phone” but would accept a letter. But he did not immediately reply to a letter asking why he is interested in the issue and other related questions.

Reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case has generally been bewilderment. William R. Consedine, the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated, “We are very surprised that this matter ...

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