The U. S. Supreme Court will soon rule on two important church-state disputes.
In one case, the issue is the extent to which churches must pay real-estate taxes on income-producing property. The Central Baptist Church in Miami is contesting the right of local authorities to demand a levy on its parking lot. But the court’s decision could affect as well the future of church suppers, bazaars, book sales, and even the widespread custom among synagogues of “renting” seats at High Holiday services.
Arguments were heard by the court in December, and a decision can be expected within several months.
The justices also listened to arguments on whether Amish parents must send their children to school beyond the eighth grade; a ruling is promised before long (see also editorial, page 26).
The Miami church insists that its parking lot is as essential as its roof. When the Roman Catholic lawyer-priest defending the church made this point, Justice Thurgood Marshall interjected: “I know churches without a parking lot, but none without a roof. I wonder if you aren’t pushing necessity a little far?”
Arguing for the church was Father Charles M. Whelan, a Fordham University professor and an associate editor of the Jesuit weekly America. Whelan wore lay clothes for the occasion, believed to be the first time a Roman Catholic priest has ever orally presented a case before the nation’s highest tribunal.
Religious News Service reported that the brief for the church was prepared in part by William R. Consedine, General Counsel for the U. S. Catholic Conference. “The Miami appeal is seen as pivotal in the entire church tax-exemption debate,” said an RNS dispatch.
In this as well as the Amish case, there has been considerable crossing of ecclesiastical ...1
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