While most people want everyone to pay their fair share of taxes, however that may be defined, most people do not want government anywhere near the church or anything that belongs to the church. Indeed, for centuries in the United States we have forbidden taxation of churches.
But, if the tax is not called a “tax,” but is called a “special assessment,” well then, that is different is it not? Apparently, in Minnesota, that is the law. In Bryant Avenue Baptist Church v City of Minneapolis, Slip Op. (MN Civ. App. 2017), the Court explained why a church of about 80 members was the proud recipient of a “special assessment” for street repairs in the amount of $31,191.30 to be paid off in five annual installments. The Court was convinced that the state constitution did not exempt churches from “special assessments” for civic improvements even though cemeteries and other types of entities were exempt.
The Court solved the 1st Amendment entanglement issue by pretending it did not exist. Indeed, there is no mention of it in the opinion. It is possible the church did not raise the 1st Amendment as a defense, but that seems unlikely, and even so, most courts would inquire into their own jurisdiction to hear a matter obviously touched by a fundamental federal right. Apparently, there is no prohibition of entanglement with religion in the Minnesota constitution.
“History is particularly compelling in the present case because of the undeviating acceptance given religious tax exemptions from our earliest days as a Nation. Rarely if ever has this Court considered the constitutionality of a practice for which the historical support is so overwhelming.” Walz v. Tax Comm’n of City of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 681 (1970) (Brennan, J., concurring).