Appeals, Nos. 32 and 33, Oct. T., 1959, from orders of Court of Common Pleas No. 6 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1956, Nos. 9104 and 9103, in cases of Second Church of Christ Scientist of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania et al. v. City of Philadelphia et al. and First Church of Christ Scientist of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania v. Same. Orders reversed.
Henry T. Reath, with him Duane, Morris & Heckscher, for appellants.
Daniel R. Sherzer, Assistant City Solicitor, with him Jacob J. Siegal, Deputy City Solicitor, and David Berger, City Solicitor, for appellees.
Before Rhodes, P.j., Hirt, Gunther, Wright, Woodside, Ervin, and Watkins, JJ.
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The question here is whether a church owned lot adjacent to the church edifice and used as a parking lot exclusively for people attending religious services is exempt from the real estate tax of the City of Philadelphia and the school district of that city.
There are two appeals, No. 32 involving the Second Church of Christ Scientist of Philadelphia, and No. 33 involving the First Church of Christ Scientist of Philadelphia, but as there are no distinguishing facts, we will consider them together in one opinion.
The Board of Revision of Taxes denied the churches' applications for exemption, and upon appeal, the Court of Common Pleas No. 6 of Philadelphia affirmed the action of the board.
Article 9, section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that "the General Assembly may, by general laws, exempt from taxation... actual places of religious worship".*fn1 This provision of the Constitution
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does not exempt places of religious worship from taxation but merely permits the legislature to exempt them within the lines laid down for its guidance. Philadelphia v. Barber, 160 Pa. 123, 126, 28 A. 644 (1894) and Wagner Free Institute v. Philadelphia, 132 Pa. 612, 617, 19 A. 297 (1890).
The General Assembly may exempt from taxation only such property as comes within the phrase "actual places of religious worship," but it need not extend the exemption to all property covered by the phrase.
The General Assembly, under the authority given it in the above constitutional provision, enacted as follows: "The following property shall be exempt from all county, city, borough, town, township, road, poor and school tax, to wit: [a] All churches, meetinghouses, or other regular places of stated worship, with the ground thereto annexed necessary for the occupancy and enjoyment of the same;" Act of May 22, 1933, P.L. 853, § 204, 72 PS § 5020-204.
Prior to 1873 the legislature by special acts exempted particular real estate of certain religious and charitable organizations. As many of the exempt premises were revenue producing, these special laws became a great evil. See Northampton Co. v. Navigation Co., 75 Pa. 461 (1874). In 1873 the legislature repealed these special acts and passed a general law relating to the exemption of church property, somewhat more inclusive than the aforesaid provision of the Constitution adopted a few months later.
Under the constitutional provision, and the statutes enacted thereunder, it has been held that the actual use to which a place is put determines whether it is a place which can be exempt, and that actual use means exclusive use, so that no part of a place of religious worship which is income producing, even though it be
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a part of the church building itself, can be exempt from tax under this provision. Philadelphia v. Barber, supra, 160 Pa. 123, 28 A. 644 (1894).
During the Constitutional Convention there was an effort made to amend the committee report on section 1, article 9 of the proposed Constitution so that the section would specifically include among exemptible property "parsonages owned by any church or religious society with the lands attached not exceeding 5 acres." This amendment was rejected by the delegates. The courts have since held that parsonages and janitors' homes are residential places and are not exempt as actual places of worship. Philadelphia v. St. Elizabeth's Church, 45 Pa. Superior Ct. 363 (1911); Pittsburgh v. The Third Presbyterian Church, 10 Pa. Superior Ct. 302 (1899); Wynnefield Presbyterian Church v. Philadelphia, 348 Pa. 252, 35 A.2d 276 (1944).
Vacant lots held for the avowed purpose of building a church have been held to be taxable. Pittsburgh v. Presbyterian Church, 20 Pa. Superior Ct. 362 (1902); Mullen v. Commissioners of Erie County, 85 Pa. 288 (1877). This is true even though, during part of the year, the lot had a tent erected on it which was occasionally used for worship. ...