LINCOLN, Neb. – An atheist lawmaker in Nebraska has proposed a bill that seeks to revoke property tax exemptions for religious organizations in the state, including churches.
Senator Ernie Chambers (D-Omaha) introduced the legislation before the Nebraska Revenue Committee on Friday, explaining that he believes the proposal would help ease the tax burden on Nebraska residents.
“The purpose of LB 675 is to help the state gain more revenue, rather than less, by taking away churches’ property tax exemptions,” his Statement of Intent reads. “If taxes were paid on the many churches and cathedrals and temples in every city in this state, perhaps the state’s assistance to local governments and schools would be diminished considerably—leaving more in state coffers for other purposes.”
Chambers also asserted that Jesus would want churches to pay property taxes, noting that Christ once advised to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
“This bill simply carries out what Jesus wanted to see his followers do,” Chambers stated during the hearing before the Revenue Committee.
But Senator Beau McCoy (R-Omaha) pointed out that the Book of Erza specifically exempts churches from taxation.
“You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God,” he said.
Educational and charitable organizations that are not deemed to be religious would still be eligible for the exemption under the bill. Text of the legislation notes that its purpose is “to eliminate the property tax exemption for property owned by religious organizations; to harmonize provisions; to provide an operative date; and to repeal the original sections.”
Grand Island Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Johnson told local television station KHAS-TV that she believed the bill will likely fail, noting that churches provide a variety of services to the community, including serving the hungry and homeless.
“Those services provided by the church have a value to the community,” she said. “As with many things, that’s a tradeoff.”
In 2007, Chambers filed a lawsuit against God, accusing him of “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the earth’s inhabitants.” He also asserted that God had caused “fearsome floods, horrendous hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues, famine, genocidal wars, birth defects, terrifying tornadoes and the like” on the earth, and sought a permanent injunction against Him.
Chambers said that his suit was in response to proposals to block lawsuits that were deemed too frivolous, as he believed all grievances should be allowed to be presented to the courts.
But Douglas County Judge Marlon Polk dismissed the suit because God could not be served with a copy of the lawsuit as required by law, since He has no address.
“Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant, this action will be dismissed with prejudice,” he wrote.