WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (May 31-June 6, 2010)

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

Strapped towns tax Catholic properties; Church forced to pay for shuttered buildings.” By Lisa Wangsness. Boston Globe. May 31, 2010. Nine cities and towns have forced the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to pay property taxes on closed churches, schools, convents, and parish halls, contending that the buildings no longer qualify as tax-exempt because the archdiocese is not using them. Two of the taxed churches — St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate and St. Jeremiah in Framingham — have been occupied for years by former parishioners protesting their closure. But local assessors insist the church buildings are now taxable because the vigils are not sanctioned by the archdiocese. The archdiocese has fought back, arguing that its closed churches should remain exempt from taxation, but has had little success. In Belmont, Danvers, Lowell, Lynn, and Revere, the archdiocese has withdrawn appeals of tax bills for closed churches, reluctantly agreeing to pay reduced levies totaling about $280,000. This year, for example, it will pay the city of Lowell about $19,400 in property taxes on Sacred Heart Church, which was closed in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of dollars remain in dispute before the state Appellate Tax Board, where the archdiocese hopes to fend off tax collectors in Framingham, Natick, and Scituate, and where it is also challenging Revere’s decision to tax a convent that still houses a small number of nuns. The tax disputes have come to a head at a time of financial duress for both the archdio cese and cities and towns.

Segregated clubs in Kentucky raise issues for private business, civil rights law.” By Krissah Thompson. Washington Post. June 2, 2010. — The push to integrate Kentucky’s private social clubs, whose members clung to old notions of Southern white privilege for decades after the end of Jim Crow, began in the early 1990s with a lone, quiet protest: At lunchtime on days when the weather was nice, a black preacher and civil rights activist named Louis Coleman would put up a folding card table in front of one of the many unofficially restricted clubs here; set it with a tablecloth, china and candles; and dine on buns and lemonade. Coleman died in 2008, but his efforts drew the attention of the state’s Commission on Human Rights, which opened a decade-long inquiry into Kentucky’s country clubs and men-only dining societies. A 2004 state Supreme Court ruling pushed Kentucky’s remaining segregated clubs to stop the discrimination or risk losing tax deductions. Still, at least one club held out until late last year. But the idea that the government has no right to interfere with membership practices of private businesses and clubs is still prevalent enough here that it has become a point of controversy in this year’s U.S. Senate race in the state. Republican Party nominee Rand Paul caused a stir last month when he said he believed private businesses should not be forced to abide by civil rights laws.

Tuition Plans Are Discussed By Preschools; Officials Say Talks Aren’t Wrongdoing.” By Barbara Martinez And Joseph De Avila. Wall Street Journal. June 2, 2010. Some Manhattan preschools trade information about planned tuition increases before setting rates each year, a practice that some lawyers say is potentially problematic. Officials at four of 17 preschools contacted by The Wall Street Journal said they discuss future tuition increases but denied colluding to set prices, which would be against the law. State and federal laws prohibit competitors from agreeing to set prices together. Even discussing the future direction of prices is risky, say antitrust lawyers, because having information about a competitor’s plans might affect the final decision a given school reaches. “If these persons reached agreements on price, it is unlawful,” says Stephen Calkins, a former general counsel to the Federal Trade Commission and an expert on antitrust law. “If they failed to reach agreement, it is still inappropriate and ill-advised.” A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said “it would be inappropriate” to comment without more details.

Judge: No public school graduations at a church.” No by-line. USA Today. June 2, 2010. A lawyer says a Connecticut school system will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that prohibits the district from holding its two high school graduations at a megachurch. U.S. District Judge Janet Hall in Bridgeport ruled Monday that holding the graduations at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield would be an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
Related Story:
Conn. school drops appeal for graduation in church case.” USA Today. June 4, 2010.

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