Friday, April 15, 2016

Columbus OH Radio: Christian WCVO Ruled "Public Worship"

A nonprofit Gahanna radio station that plays Christian music is a place of "public worship" and thus exempt from property taxes, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The 4-3 ruling overturns the state tax commissioner's finding that the property of WCVO 104.9 FM The River  owned by Christian Voice is a commercial enterprise, with its property used exclusively as a radio station -- not as a church.

But, Tax Commissioner Joseph Testa improperly failed to "consider whether Christian Voice exhibits the essential qualities of a church," wrote Justice Sharon L. Kennedy in the majority opinion.

She said "the record clearly demonstrates that the primary use of Christian Voice’s land and building is for church purposes" and the evidence demonstrates that Christian Voice “has dedicated all its land and buildings to charity and religion, and … [has] the necessary attributes of a church.”

WCVO 104.9 FM (6 Kw)  Red=Local Coverage
Kennedy also wrote, “The fact that Christian music makes up the majority of the broadcasting strengthens, not weakens, Christian Voice’s arguments that its purpose is religious.”

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the property has a market value of $1.7 million, with Christian Voice paying about $54,000 a year in property taxes. About $30,000 goes to Gahanna Jefferson schools. The nonprofit's lawyer, Brian Zets, said it would seek a refund of about $400,000 in taxes paid since 2008.

In a strongly worded dissent, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor accused the majority justices of “blatant activism” for its use of misguided case law “flown in on a wing and prayer” to rule in favor of Christian Voice and its station, dubbed "The River."

The majority found that the "broadcast of 'adult contemporary Christian' music mystically transforms its radio station into a tax-exempt house of worship," O'Connor wrote. "If that framing were proper, we would face a church-state issue that poses complex constitutional conundrums." The public does not gather at the station for religious services, she said.

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