US Supreme Court denies review in church tax exemption case over Gorsuch dissent
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US Supreme Court denies review in church tax exemption case over Gorsuch dissent

The US Supreme Court Tuesday turned away a dispute over a city’s refusal to grant a property tax exemption to a church, drawing a sharp dissent from Justice Neil Gorsuch.

In Trustees of the New Life in Christ Church v. City of Fredericksburg, Virginia, the court had been asked to decide whether the city violated the First Amendment when it used its own interpretation of who is a “minister” of the church, rather than accepting the church’s determination. The dispute involved a tax exemption for a property that housed a couple deemed “ministers” by the church. The city concluded that the couple were not “the minister” of the church and refused to grant the tax exemption.

In his dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch said that not only would he have agreed to hear the case, but that he would have ruled in favor of the church.

The First Amendment does not permit bureaucrats or judges to ‘subject’ religious beliefs ‘to verification.’ About this, the Court has spoken plainly and consistently for many years. … This case may be a small one, and one can hope that the error here is so obvious it is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. But I would correct it. Bureaucratic efforts to ‘subject’ religious beliefs to ‘verification’ have no place in a free country.

None of the other justices commented on the decision not to hear the case, despite taking it under consideration at multiple conferences.