|The Utah Chapter
came through with a significant even a stunning victory at the polls
during the November election debacle, in no place other than Utah,
which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In September. when it became apparent that the church was trying to manage the ultimate rip-off in tax exemption, Richard Andrews. the Director of the Utah Chapter of American Atheists, and Chris Allen his Assistant Director, began a long educational campaign in Utah toward a denouement of that attempt.
Fighting continuously for radio and television time as well as for coverage m the hard media (newspapers and news magazines) their efforts were enormous. By October 5th, they were able to write their own editorial opinion in the Salt Lake Tribune and their analysis of the church effort was most cogent.
Titled Vote Against Tax Amendment and by-lined 'By Richard Andrews and Chris Allen' the article (to which the newspaper editor attached a disclaimer) was 31 inches in a three column span, in headline position on the "Opinion" page, associated with the Editorial and Letters pages.
The core of their objection to a certain Proposition 2, which was a Tax Article Revision Amendment to
Constitution of the state, was succinctly put. The Utah State Constitution now provides (Article XII, Sec. 2)
that only 'lots with buildings thereon used exclusively for either
religious worship or charitable purposes' may be property tax
exempt. The proposed amendment would change this to read 'Property
owned by a non profit entity which is used for religious.
charitable, hospital. educational, employee representation. or
welfare purposes· will be tax exempt This amendment changes the
basis of the decision for granting exemption from the 'use' of a
property to the 'ownership' of a property.
This change stems from a tax reform effort by a former Salt Lake County Assessor, who found that many properties that had obtained tax exemptions did not satisfy the constitutional requirement of being used exclusively for religious worship or charitable purposes. so he placed them back on the tax roles This action created an unprecedented uproar among the Influential special interests [the Mormon Church -- ed.] that benefited from the exemptions. These special interests countered the assessor by persuading the State Legislature to empower their friendly State Tax Commission to grant outright exemptions.
The Salt Lake County Assessor and his attorney prepared 96 briefs in appeals to the State Supreme Court over unconstitutional exemptions granted by the State Tax Commission.
court upheld the assessor m most.
"The current language is our state Constitution is designed to protect us from excessive taxes caused by granting exemptions as political favors. The proposed constitutional amendment threatens to wipe out all of the reforms instituted to tax the property of businesses owned by churches. Religious organizations are estimated to currently own 25 percent of privately owned property in the county of Salt Lake. Many church businesses will be able to qualify for exemptions. A good example of this is a restaurant and catering service for weddings (Lyon's House in Salt Lake) Such businesses have an unfair advantage in competing with private businesses".
"This change... will exempt parsonages, rectories, welfare farm homes, rentals. private colleges, hospitals and gymnasiums (owned by the Mormon church -- ed ).".
The article ended with an appeal to the voter to stand against Proposition 2..
As the fight mounted and as Mormon politicians deliberately misrepresented the issue, the Utah Chapter of American Atheists decided to go into court On October 16th, a suit was filed in an effort to keep Proposition 2 off the ballot The thrust of the suit was that the constitutional provision would, if voted for, permit the use of the taxing power of the State of Utah to aid and
|"Page 6" Brurnaire 188 ( 11 80) American Atheist|
subsidize religion and to discriminate against non-religious
Taking the fight also to the University of Utah. the Chapter convinced the Daily Utah Chronicle newspaper to take an editorial stand which pointed out the possible church/state conflict inherent in Proposition 2.
The law suit was heard on October 22nd but the court ducked the issue by ruling that there was "no case or controversy" until voters passed Proposition 2. At that point, the Utah Chapter was told, it could return to court.
No one helped. The Utah Chapter of American Atheists stood absolutely alone in this fight The principals in the media were Chris Allen and Richard Andrews, obtaining what electronic media coverage they could and persuading Paul Wharton, an attorney and Chapter member, to read an editorial on the Mormon-owned television station (KSL). But on that station, it was impossible to mention that the opposition to the proposed amendment was coming exclusively from American Atheists in Utah!
Throughout the nation religion has had as a goal the obtaining of real property tax exemption on the basis of ownership rather than use. This has become increasing urgent to religion as more and The Mormon church, in this instance, was trying
direct assault upon the constitution of that state in order to gain
the desired end. If this church won, the other Christian
denominations would emulate the exercise in their states
The tax assessor, an honest man. had tried to keep the Mormon church within the confines of the current constitution of Utah The state tax commission. in the pocket of the church. granted exemptions which were violative of the constitution. The fight over Proposition 2 was the effort of the Mormon Church to legitimatize the practice of its being granted tax exemptions unconstitutionally.
While the fight was going on at the ballot box. an anomaly began to appear: Proposition 2, early in the voting, was defeated; late in the evening, the battle was close: in favor - 39%, opposed- 39%. But when the smoke cleared, 187,196 voted against Proposition 2 and 174.140 for it.
It was a stunning victory for the Utah Chapter of American Atheists. Without the fight headed up by Rich Andrews and Chris Allen, the Utah population would not have had any inkling that this effort was being made by the church. The Chapter was just as jubilant as was the national American Atheist Center. In a victory statement Rich Andrews noted that the defeat of of the Proposition pointed out the necessity for a state/church separation watchdog in Utah . However. he continued, "The fight against the broadening of religious tax exemptions does not end with the defeat of Proposition 2. In recent years,
state has allowed many property tax exemptions which are outside of
the strictures required by the Utah state constitution. These
exemptions have cost the state mil lions of dollars in lost revenue.
The state legislature has encouraged this abuse by passing laws
which broaden religious exemptions and which permit the state Tax
Commission to grant exemptions when both the statutes and the tax
commission regulations are in violation of the Utah state
constitution. With the mandate given by defeat of Proposition 2.
American Atheists can do much to plug the leaks and eliminate future
losses, ultimately reducing the property taxes paid by individual
Most Atheists are overwhelmed with fear when faced by a formidable opponent. such as the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts. the Baptists in Georgia. the Lutherans in Minnesota or the Hare Krishna in Denver But. there IS hardly a church more powerful in the world than is the Mormon church tn Utah Richard Andrews. Chris Allen and the Utah Chapter of American Atheists took on that church on its own stomping grounds - and beat it. There is no better lesson. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it all when he told the nation in 1935 that all we had to fear was fear itself.
|Reprint of American Atheist Magazine Nov. 1980|
IN MEMORIAM Richard Andrews
American Atheist Magazine announces the 1981
National Atheist Convention in Salt Lake City.