--The Property Appraiser Ignores a Court Order Finding the Holy Land Experience Tax Exempt
Today, Liberty Counsel filed a Motion asking a Florida Circuit Court to hold Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan in contempt for refusing to recognize a property tax exemption for The Holy Land Experience Ministries despite a court order holding the property to be tax exempt. Liberty Counsel represents The Holy Land Experience Ministries in a lawsuit brought in 2001 challenging the denial of a property tax exemption.
The Holy Land Experience, located off I-4 in Orlando, is a living Biblical museum that conveys its religious message through teaching, preaching, dramatic enactments, special music and performances, and multimedia presentations. The Biblical museum contains a walk-through replica of the Holy Land, including a towering Temple. The Scriptorium houses the largest private collection of ancient Biblical manuscripts.
On July 5, 2005, after almost 4 years of litigation, the Orange County Circuit Court issued an order stating, "The property on which The Holy Land Experience sits is exempt from ad valorem taxation due to being used predominately for religious purposes and not for a profitmaking purpose." A few weeks before the court's order, Mr. Donegan issued a letter denying property tax exemption for 2005. Following the order, Liberty Counsel requested that Mr. Donegan abide by the court's order and rescind the 2005 denial. Mr. Donegan has refused on more than one occasion, and has failed to recognize The Holy Land Experience as tax exempt.
The Motion for Contempt requests that the Court hold Mr. Donegan in contempt of court for blatantly refusing to abide by the Court's order declaring the property to be tax exempt. The Motion requests that the Court impose sanctions on Mr. Donegan until he comes into compliance with the Court's Order and recognizes The Holy Land Experience as exempt from property taxes.
Mr. Donegan has blatantly refused to follow the law. The property appraiser's office continues to trample on the rights of The Holy Land Experience and has thumbed its nose at the authority of the court. If Judge Roy Moore can be removed from office for refusing to obey a court order, then Mr. Donegan is not exempt from the law. The rule of law means something, and no official, high or petty, is above the rule of law. When a property appraiser refuses to abide by a court order it should cause concern for every property owner.