STRASBOURG, France — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will maintain an 80 percent discount on property taxes for its Preston England Temple, but it will not get the full exemption from the taxes it had sought prior to a court ruling issued Tuesday.
A panel of judges from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, announced its decision that the Preston temple is not a "public place of worship" because it is open only to members with a temple recommend.
The LDS Church had appealed a similar ruling by a lower court, arguing that requiring property taxes for the Preston temple violated its religious freedom.
The ruling means the church will have to pay 20 percent of the local business property tax rate on the temple, located 10 miles from Preston in Chorley, Lancashire County. That 80 percent discount is a "charity business relief rate" applied to buildings used for charitable purposes. The Preston temple was listed as such a building by Lancashire County in 1998.
An LDS chapel and stake center on the same site have full property tax exemptions as public places of worship.
The court's main opinion agreed that the Preston temple meets that definition of a building used for charitable purposes.
"This 80 percent reduction can be seen as reflecting the elements of public benefit which the (church) identifies as flowing from the nature of temple worship," the court's ruling stated.
The LDS Church had argued those benefits include, the court noted, "extensive participation in charitable and humanitarian endeavors, commitment to good citizenship, and careful devotion to family responsibilities. Sacred pledges made in the course of collective worship in the temple, which were then lived out in the world, resounded to the benefit of society at large."
The church argued the original property tax listing meant that Latter-day Saints were being singled out. "This was not a case of worship being made private for the purposes of being exclusive or to provide private benefit," the court noted in summarizing the church's position. "It was because the very nature of the worship as understood by its believers required privacy to promote the sacred character of the worship. Just as an invitation to the general public to enter these spaces would disrupt sacred practices, so the nature of temple worship would be destroyed if there were a general requirement that the public be able to sit in."
The court ruled the property tax rules do not treat the LDS Church differently than other churches or violate the church's freedom of religion.
"The legislation is neutral, in that it is the same for all religious groups as regards the manifestation of religious beliefs in private," the court said. "(A)nd indeed (it) produces exactly the same negative consequences for the officially established (Church of England) as far as private chapels are concerned."
The church's United Kingdom spokesman, Malcom Adcock, said, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints respects the decision of the Strasbourg court, and is grateful that the charitable activities of churches are recognized under UK and European law.”