Rokita joins coalition urging Supreme Court to review religious doctrine case

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Indiana has joined a multi-state coalition calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling in a Virginia case that denied a tax exemption to a church based on the “government’s interpretation” of its religious doctrine.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita joined a 15-state coalition in a Kentucky-led amicus brief, claiming New Life in Christ Church’s First Amendment rights have been violated.

New Life allows its two college ministers to live on a church-owned property and use that house as a place of worship and religious gathering. The brief says that a Virginia court “ignored” New Life’s “ecclesiastical decision” and adopted the City of Fredericksburg’s “contrary interpretation” of the church’s religious doctrine in denying tax exemption for its parsonage.

The brief argues that the state court improperly interfered with the religious autonomy of the church, pointing to Thomas v. Review Bd. Of Ind. Emp’t Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 716 (1982).

According to the coalition’s brief, states like Virginia are free to limit the viability of religious tax exemptions for secular reasons that don’t require civil authorities to wade into issues of theological importance. However, once the government uses its judiciary to resolve matters of faith and doctrine it has “stepped into forbidden territory.”

“When it comes to our rights under the U.S. Constitution, we must remember that what happens in other states has a direct impact on the preservation of our freedoms here in Indiana,” Rokita said in a statement. “I will always stand strong for Hoosiers’ religious liberty. We must never yield an inch of ground in defending such fundamental principles as those at stake in this case.”

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