La Salette wins unanimous decision in property tax appeal

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro will not have to pay taxes on property where its welcome center and maintenance buildings are located, but it will have to pay taxes on other areas of the property or file for an exemption.

The Supreme Judicial Court in Boston has reversed the City of Attleboro assessor’s taxation and Appellate Tax Board’s ruling to tax property which houses La Salette Shrine’s welcome center and maintenance building, but has agreed with the ATB on taxing a wildlife sanctuary and a safe house, according to a decision announced by the SJC on Wednesday.

In an official statement released immediately after the decision, representatives of the shrine “welcomed today’s unanimous Supreme Judicial Court decision.”

“We appreciate the court’s recognition that La Salette is a place of worship, prayer, pilgrimage, and discernment whose dominant mission and purpose is to celebrate and honor Our Lady of La Salette,” the statement read. “Like so many other religious institutions, we must occasionally use our property to raise funds to support religious worship and our mission of hope and reconciliation. We believe that occasional use furthers, and does not at all detract from, the religious worship at our shrine by insuring that it will continue to operate for generations to come.

“Today, our state’s highest court agreed, recognizing that ‘even a church cannot live on prayer alone.’ The court also recognized that purposes connected with, supporting and supplementing the dominant religious purpose — in this case the maintenance shed and cafeteria — are included within the religious exemption.

“Charitable works are an integral part of La Salette’s religious mission, as the court acknowledged. Accordingly, we have welcomed other charitable organizations to our property whose mission is to shelter those in need or to enhance the ecospiritual experience of nature. Though we do not distinguish these uses as ‘charitable’ as a matter of religious teaching, we accept the court’s holding that, as a matter of state tax law, these uses are more properly considered ‘charitable,’ particularly where undertaken by organizations whose mission does not include religious worship.

“The shrine is proud of its long association with the City of Attleboro and looks forward to working with the city to implement today’s decision.”

 At issue was a 2013 tax bill for $92,000 that La Salette disputed. The Board of Assessors for the City of Attleboro would only exempt the church and parsonage structures on the La Salette property from taxes for that year, along with 60 percent of the other property on the grounds such as its cafeteria and bistro operations.

When the state Appellate Tax Board likewise upheld the assessors’ decision, the shrine ultimately took their appeal to the state’s highest court, which originally heard oral arguments on the case April 5, 2016.

A second round of arguments was made before six of the seven members of the SJC on Dec. 5, 2016 in Boston, which resulted in today’s unanimous decision in La Salette’s favor.

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