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FATHER LEO STAJKOWSKI v. CARBON COUNTY BOARD ASSESSMENT AND REVISION TAXES (10/06/86)

decided: October 6, 1986.

FATHER LEO STAJKOWSKI, APPELLANT
v.
CARBON COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT AND REVISION OF TAXES, CHIEF ASSESSOR OF CARBON COUNTY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County in the case of Father Leo Stajkowski v. Carbon County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes, No. 83 S 91.

COUNSEL

Stephen Peter Vlossak, Sr., for appellant.

Joseph J. Velitsky, for appellees.

Judges Rogers and Doyle, and Senior Judge Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges Rogers, Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry and Colins. Opinion by Judge Doyle. Dissenting Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr. Judge Colins joins in this dissent.

Author: Doyle

[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 208]

This is an appeal by Father Leo Stajkowski from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County which denied Father Stajkowski's appeal from a decision of the Carbon County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes (Board). After an informal hearing, the Board denied Father Stajkowski's appeal of his occupational classification assessed value for 1982.

The relevant facts are not in dispute. Father Stajkowski was assessed taxes based upon the category of Clergyman which triggered an assessment rating of 250. He testified before the court of common pleas that he became a priest, but that this was not his occupation, but his vocation. He further testified that his main duty is to offer sacrifice, say Mass and celebrate sacraments and that his goal is not to acquire worldly property,*fn1 but to lead the members of his parish closer to God and in the process save his own soul. He further explained that his other duties include running the parish buildings and payment of church bills. He receives an annual salary of $5,700.00.*fn2

[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 209]

On appeal Father Stajkowski raises one question for our consideration -- whether the occupational assessment classification and tax as it applies to clergymen violates Father Stajkowski's First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion.*fn3 See U.S. Const. amend. I. His position is that because the occupational classification of "clergyman" is undefined it operates to tax all of his activities including his religious ones, hence violating his right to free exercise. He relies upon the case of Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943), wherein the United States Supreme Court held unconstitutional as applied a local ordinance which imposed a flat licensing tax on the privilege of canvassing or soliciting. The tax was applied to itinerant preachers distributing religious literature and such application was held to be an unconstitutional restriction upon, inter alia, the free exercise of religion. In addition, the tax, which was not merely a nominal fee imposed for the purpose of regulating canvassing and solicitation, had the effect of taxing individuals for delivering sermons. Murdock is thus inapposite here because the instant case does not involve a tax which operates to charge an individual for expressing religious beliefs. Instead, it taxes one's privilege to have an occupation. Simply stated, Father Stajkowski would pay the same amount whether he delivers a sermon or not.

The United States Supreme Court has stated that the Free Exercise Clause "recognizes the value of religious training, teaching and observance and, more particularly, the right of every person to freely choose his

[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 210]

    own course with reference thereto, free of any compulsion from the state." School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 222 (1963). The Schempp Court further explained:

The Free Exercise Clause . . . withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions thereof by civil authority. Hence it is necessary in a free exercise case for one to show the ...


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