Monday, July 07, 2008

Alaska Court Upholds Religious Teachers’ Housing Exemptions Against ACLU Attack

The Alaska Superior Court has ruled that Alaska can continue to allow tax exemptions for housing of parochial school teachers. The ACLU filed suit to take away property tax exemptions for housing that is owned by religious organizations and used by private parochial school teachers, alleging that the tax exemption violates equal protection and establishment clauses of the state and federal constitutions. Liberty Counsel represents Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) and Pastor Jerry Prevo in defense of the exemption. The case is Coonrod v. State of Alaska.

Superior Court Judge Mike Spaan ruled that a 2006 state law exempting organization-owned homes of religious educators is constitutional. The decision says tax exemptions are provided to religious and charitable organizations because they perform services that would otherwise have to be funded from tax revenues and because they foster the moral and intellectual development of the community.

The exemption given by the Alaska legislature applies to the homes of ABT's teachers. Nonreligious educational institutions already enjoyed an exemption for teacher housing before the legislature added the religious institution exemption. Without the exemption, ABT and other religious institutions would not be able to provide quality education to Alaska’s children, where educational opportunities are limited because of the rural nature of much of the state.

ABT operates a number of ministries, including alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs, community outreaches, children’s programs, a bus transportation service, music programs, and Anchorage Christian School, a K-12 school serving approximately 700 students. ABT owns six residences that house teachers. These residences are integral to ABT’s educational mission.

This is a great victory for the children and families of Alaska. Many of these children living in remote areas will benefit from the opportunity to attend a local religious school, where a qualified teacher will give them the key to open the door to their future. The ACLU tried to educationally imprison these children. With its defeat, the children are the winners.