The state’s highest court will hear arguments Tuesday in a legal dispute over whether the City of Attleboro can levy taxes against a local Catholic shrine.
The Massachusetts Council of Churches, which is opposing the city’s effort to collect taxes from La Salette Shrine, said in a statement that “the tax assessor’s attempt to categorize and then divide religious space is both not right and not possible.”
A call to a number listed for Attleboro tax assessor Stanley J. Nacewicz was not returned on Friday evening.
The Council of Churches said the case before the Supreme Judicial Court “could affect the religious autonomy of every diverse house of worship in the Commonwealth. The Attleboro Tax Assessors have attempted to divide what they consider religious and non-religious space at the [shrine], in order to levy taxes on a religious institution.”
The statement continued, “This conversation happens at the property line. The tax assessors of Attleboro, or anywhere, cannot divide religious spaces from non-religious spaces within a church-owned property. For many religious traditions, worship, service, and charity are indivisible and inseparable. The tax assessors have made false distinctions that go to the heart of religious self-understanding.”
The Diocese of Fall River did not respond to a request for comment on Friday night.
According to a court filing by La Salette, city officials determined in 2013 that “a large portion of the Shrine was taxable.” The shrine was established in 1953 to promote “prayer and devotion to the Virgin Mary at the Shrine’s expansive campus in Attleboro,” the document said.
The shrine, whose Festival of Lights is popular with visitors during the Christmas season, sits on a 200-acre campus.
In 2013, city assessors valued the shrine at $12.8 million and determined that a portion of that amount was not tax exempt, resulting in a levy of $92,292.98, the filing said.
La Salette paid the 2013 taxes under protest and requested an abatement, which was denied in April 2013, according to the court document.
The filing also stated that La Salette “uses its entire property for religious worship or instruction,” which would make it tax exempt.
The city countered in its own legal filing that tax officials correctly ruled that “the former convent and the maintenance building were neither a house of religious worship nor a parsonage, and there was no evidence introduced of religious worship or instruction taking place at these locations, therefore these buildings were not exempt.”
Besides the state Council of Churches, groups opposing the levying of taxes on the shrine include the Council on American Islamic Relations-Massachusetts, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the council said.
An attempt to reach the Catholic Action Leaguecq for comment were unsuccessful.