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May   2

Now We Have Megachurches

Rockaway Township is the promised land. That is, at least for worshippers at Montclair's Christ Church. The parish is trying to bust a move to new, bigger digs but is getting a less than welcoming reception, according to today's New York Times, which has an article about the trials and tribulations facing what has been dubbed a "megachurch."

Christ Church's robust growth has led it on a seven-year quest for a new home, and now, reluctantly, into federal court. The church has a contract to buy the corporate campus of a biotechnology company off Route 80 in Rockaway Township, 21 miles northwest of Montclair, with ample parking and room for a 2,512-seat sanctuary.

But some neighbors are objecting, saying the church would damage the environment and snarl traffic. The township has not yet approved Christ Church's building plans, which were submitted in July 2003, and the church sued the township last month claiming a violation of its right to practice religion.

Adding another wrinkle are some race-related e-mail messages opposing the plans sent to Rev. David Ireland. Rockaway Township is primarily white.

May 2, 2005 in Buzz | Permalink


Why should the citizens of Rockaway subsidize (via property tax exemption) a religious institution not even from their own community?

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 10:24:17 AM

although the "environmental damage" argument seems pretty lame to me.

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 10:26:53 AM

MAybe we can get the biotech company to move here.

Posted by: walleroo | May 2, 2005 10:49:21 AM

Here, ROC, I will have a rare disagreement with you. Churches are not exactly of a specific "community." Their community is the kingdom of God. We're also not talking about a parish church here, but rather a big operation that draws its worshippers from, surely, several towns. So what Christ Church is asking is merely to physically relocate in Rockaway. I doubt that Christ Church thus views it as a move in terms of anything much other than its furniture and needed space. It's simply gotten too big for its present headquarters.
Any church that can plan on putting 2000+ fannies into seats at worship services is also a force to be reckoned with. Whatever the denomination. So I even wonder if Christ Church doesn't feel as if, by physically leaving baristaville, they're leaving a sinking ship. (No, I could not resist that observation. St. Francis of Assisi himself probably couldn't have resisted it either.)
Yes, too, the "environmental impact" argument sounds lame. (Is a large hotel on Rte. 10, of which Rockaway has a few, any less damaging than a church which would be most crowded but one day of the week?) I'd add "scandalous, since it way too often lately is the last court refuge of scoundrels of various stripes..

Posted by: cathar | May 2, 2005 10:51:50 AM

My question was meant not to be rhetorical. I'd like to here arguments on both sides. I must admit I am an odd bird on questions of tax exemption and religion etc. I have no problem with state funded "faith-based initiatives" because I have seen first hand the good they do.

I suppose I'd say that it should be up to each municipality to draft its own tax emption codes and standards.

I wonder on what basis any institution should be granted relief from its fair share of the tax burden? That should go for churches, museums, arts organizations, theaters etc.

But I dunno. Those things do good things for a community.

Perhaps the "value" of their community service should be "deducted" from their tax responsibility. That way institutions which work tangibly for the public good would be rewarded.

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 11:13:55 AM


regarding "Mega-Chruches" how many does the UCC or Presbyterian (Central Chruch) in Montclair seat? Those are BIG spaces.

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 11:31:47 AM

Churches might plausibly counter that their effects on communities cannot (as yet, anyhow) be tangibly measured. Takes generations upon generations, you might say. Think, for example, of Mark Antony's remark in "Julius Caesar," to the effect that the good men do in life lives on after them, but "the evil is oft interred with their bones."
You certainly have to admit, churchgoing, and its effects both positive and negative, doesn't often come up as a topic here.
I doubt the two churches you cited are as big as Christ Church wants to have in Rockaway, ROC. 2500 seats, well, to get some idea of relative size there you've got to be thinking of NJPAC or Carnegie Hall

Posted by: cathar | May 2, 2005 11:41:41 AM

FWIW - the quote is
"The evil that men do lives after them;The good is oft interred with their bones;"

Posted by: gb | May 2, 2005 11:51:12 AM

Boy was I mislead back in Papist school! Does this mean I should have gone over to the (Democratic, naturally) "dark side?" But he was being ironic, right? Especially given that so much critical theory pegs Shakespeare as a Papist himself? Oh well, I'm sure that the nuns and brothers who taught me were all "honorable men."

PS. what does WWIW mean?

Posted by: cathar | May 2, 2005 12:09:42 PM

FWIW is net-lingo for "For What it's Worth", FWIW. ( but it can't be "worth" much, can it? If it were "worth" anything wouldn't it be "worth" the time to type "for what it's worth"?)

For the longest time I thought "LOL" meant "Loser On-Line" because "LOL" seemed always to be near a particularly bad joke!

Did you know that ACRONYM is one? "Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding Meaning."

My favorite is EBBAK (Error Between Brain and Keyboard) or LCD (Liberal Cognitive Dissonance).

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 1:14:55 PM

I bet if churches, or other religious bodies weren't tax exempt, there would be very little discussion or controversey as to where they located.

The whole notion of exempting these organizations needs to be revisited on a federal level. Almost anyone can open a "church" and claim exemption. I'm not suggesting that Christ Church isn't a valid religious organization, only that such claims should not entitle one to a tax exemption. It's too easy to abuse this privilage, and has been many times over.

Posted by: Todd | May 2, 2005 2:05:23 PM

FYI, just because something is a non-profit or even a religious organization does not make it exempt from property tax in NJ, but a church such as the one described would certainly qualify for a property tax exemption.

IMNSHO, this is a state-mandate/state pay issue. It is the state that decided that Churches and (some other) non-profits should be exempt from property tax, it is the state that should compensate the town and the county and the school board for the lost revenue.

FWIW, I believe that nobody should be exempt.

Posted by: bob | May 2, 2005 3:25:40 PM


So long as the State gets those funds from the State Taxpayer (whomever they may be!).

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 3:31:53 PM

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that specific tax exemptions were a form of subsidy (Regan v. Taxation With Representation), overturning the reasoning behind the last constitutional challenge to church tax exemptions to reach them (1970's Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York), all it would take to cause churches to lose their tax exemption would be another suit of the nature of Walz: an irate taxpayer challenging the constitutionality of the government subsidizing churches.

At least with the current court makeup, that is.

Posted by: MiloG | May 2, 2005 4:16:12 PM


This sounds like a job for (drum roll) The Democratic Party!

(please...please...let them try!)

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 5:16:10 PM

It would be worth seeing the fall of the Democratic PArty just to see church's of all denominations stripped of their tax exeption. (And I'm one of those pitiable, pathetic Democrats.)

Posted by: walleroo | May 2, 2005 6:20:54 PM

also NPR's subsidy? (can you imagine how apopletic you'd be if some of your tax dollars went to Fox News?) PBS? NEA? How about Luna Stage?

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 6:29:33 PM

Do you know how much money is tied up in churches, untouchable to the tax man? I'm asking because I don't know, but I imagine it's huge. It would probably be like creating a whole new wing of the economy. All that dough would have to go surging into the stock market and real estate and into government coffers. Suddenly we'd be talking about increasing social security benefits and lowering the retirement age to 55. Food stamps for everybody making less than $100k. Okay, maybe I'm getting carried away. But it's worth thinking about. Would I sacrifice PBS and NPR and NEA? I'd be willing to look at the costs and benefits, surely.

Posted by: walleroo | May 2, 2005 6:51:49 PM

I don't think you'd really need to sacrifice those subsidies to liberal institutions, however. Religious tax exemption is a completely separate argument. We don't even need to get into the question of whether government should fund cultural enrichment programs. LEt's first get rid of the church exemption, and then we'll discuss it. Deal?

Posted by: walleroo | May 2, 2005 6:58:41 PM

"can you imagine how apopletic you'd be if some of your tax dollars went to Fox News?"

I would explode.

Posted by: walleroo | May 2, 2005 6:59:47 PM

Walleroo, you may not, but I like churches. And I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your paws off them. Please. They deserve their tax exemptions, in general. (Try living on what Catholic and Pentecostal churches pay their divines.) Nor do any of these churches really control these legendary huge swathes of real estate. Besides, what makes the best condo conversions if not deconsecrated churches? You listen to NPR and watch PBS, I go to services. I think I get better value for my time and money.

Posted by: cathar | May 2, 2005 7:40:06 PM

Trinity Church is one of the largest landlords in Manhattan. (And one of the toughest to negotiate with, ironically.)

Posted by: MiloG | May 2, 2005 8:18:31 PM

a litlle history on the subject.

Interesting. I think the SCOTUS view that exemption is not a form of subsidy is persuasive.

As opposed to NPR where a check is actually written and monies delivered!

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 8:57:36 PM

But, that being said, I still question why any institution is allowed to forsake it's share of the burden.

Shouldn't what is Cesar's be rendered up to him?

Posted by: Right of Center | May 2, 2005 8:59:36 PM

The Supreme Court's Walz reasoning (mentioned in ROC's link) was that tax exemptions were not subsidies, so tax exemptions for religious institutions were allowed (subsidies are not, at the moment.) As I mentioned, though, the Supreme Court changed its mind on the subsidy issue in Regan. Regan, however, was not a case about religious institutions. But, it would seem that a Federal Court, putting two and two together in a reasonable way would find the property tax exemption for churches to be unconstitutional.

I am not saying this is the right answer, I am simply saying that this seems to be what the law would be right now if the case were brought. The Supreme Court, of course, always has the privilege of changing its mind again.

The subsidy to NPR is no more constitutionally suspect than that to cotton farmers since government subsidies are in themselves not illegal--but they are if they are to religious organizations. This, to me, seems odd from a legal point of view: there is no establishment of religion if all religions are treated equally (although to make my argument, someone would have to start an atheist church.) Personally, I think it should continue to be left up to the states to decide if churches are exempt or not.

Posted by: MiloG | May 2, 2005 10:30:17 PM

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