Mormon Temple Tax Decision

To bring people up-to-date on the decision to refuse tax exemption to the Mormon temple in Chorley here is a fuller account of what has been happening. The Valuation Office, it appears, has assessed the temple, and its rateable value has been included in the Rating List since April 2000. However, it seems that an appeal was made against this entry and the final judgement was made on the 24th November 2006. This was the judgement that prompted the TV news report and subsequent press reports. It is interesting that this decision is not any great revelation since the temple in East Grinstead has been paying rates for years for the very same reason, i.e. it is not a public place of worship.

The Mormon Church was trying to claim that since the temple was part of a larger, 15-acre complex in which some buildings were open to the public the temple is therefore ancillary to that public service. However, the court made it clear that one had nothing to do with the other. The outcome is that the public parts of the complex attract an exemption while the other, private parts are liable to full rate charges.

It is instructive that the qualification for such exemption as the Mormon authorities sought depends upon their offering a service to the public, or that part of the public that might wish to use that service. The Mormon temple fails in that it is closed not only to members of the public but to the majority of its own members that fail to qualify for a recommend.

The full judgement can be found here

It is very interesting for the account it gives of what buildings and accommodation exist on the site.

The relevant paragraphs are reproduced here:

The Temple

I turn now to the Temple. The argument that it falls within paragraph 11(1)(a) was rejected by Mr Bartlett, on the basis that no part of it could be characterised as “a place of public religious worship”, because entry was restricted to Patrons, i.e. to those who obtain a “recommend”. In this connection, Mr Bartlett, quite rightly in my view, considered that he was in any event bound by the decision in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -v- Henning (VO) [1964] AC 420. In that case, the House of Lords concluded that the London Temple of the Appellant was not exempt for rating pursuant to the provisions of the predecessor of paragraph 11(1), namely section 7(2) of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955 (“section 7(2)”), which provided:

“7.- (2) This section applies to the following hereditaments, that is to say, – (a) a place of public religious worship which belongs to the Church of England or the Church in Wales … or are for the time being certified as required by law as places of religious worship, and (b) any church hall, chapel hall or similar building used in connection with any such place of public religious worship, and so used for the purposes of the organisation responsible for the conduct of public religious worship in that place…”

In the Henning case at 440, Lord Pearce said this:

“I find it impossible… to hold that the words “places of public religious worship” includes places which, though from the worshippers’ point of view they were public as opposed to domestic, yet in the more ordinary sense were not public since the public was excluded…

Furthermore, it is less likely on general grounds that Parliament intended to give exemption to religious services that exclude the public, since exemptions from rating, though not necessarily consistent, show a general pattern of intention to benefit those activities which are for the good of the general public. All religious services that open their doors to the public may, in an age of religious tolerance, claim to perform some spiritual service to the general public… I do not find anything unreasonable in denying to the Mormon Church the public benefit of an exemption of its Temple, to which it will not allow the public to have access for worship, while according such exemption to its many chapels which, like those of other denominations, do admit the public.” As Mr Bartlett said, the use of the Temple in this case was, in all material respects, the same as the use of the Temple in the Henning case, at least for the purpose of deciding whether the use of any part of it was as a “place of public religious worship”….


In the result, therefore, it seems to me that Mr Bartlett was entirely right to conclude that, with the exception of the Stake Centre, which is exempt because it falls with the ambit of paragraph 11(1), all the other buildings on the site are not exempt as none of them falls within the ambit of paragraph 11. I would, therefore, dismiss this appeal.

Lord Justice Jacob
I agree.

Lord Justice Mummery
I also agree.

In the original, Henning, case concerning the London temple Lord Denning said:

“The short answer is that this temple is not a church hall, chapel hall, nor a similar building. It is not in the least on the same footing as a church hall or chapel hall. It is a very sacred sanctuary, quite different from a building of that category.”

Temple Access

Following this decision to deny the Mormon temple in Chorley tax exemption another news story has broken, this time regarding the access road to the temple. There is a possibility that the road leading to the temple, which has hitherto been a public access road, will become part of the temple complex and private property. An official source has explained the situation to Reachout Trust.

The site on which the temple is built was originally a green field site intended for industrial development. The Mormon Church purchased the western half of the site for its temple but then decided that they didn’t really want an industrial development right next door. They therefore bought the rest of the land and the whole site is now theirs.

The access road was originally paid for by the Mormons but then became an adopted highway. That is to say the council took over responsibility for maintenance, a common practice in these circumstances. Since then the Mormon Church has found that the road is consistently over parked by people using it as a park-and-ride meet up point for coaches to Manchester.

The Church has, therefore, applied for rights and responsibilities for the road to pass back to them, effectively making it a private road with no public right of access. A public notice will be made in the usual way, following which their case will be heard in the Magistrates Court. If there are no objections the application will go through and the Mormon Church will effectively own the road and be responsible for its maintenance.

Appeals may be heard but it must be shown that a public access is being denied and, since there is now only one landowner and no one would reasonably need access it would be hard to prove such a need. In law the only right is to pass and re-pass. There is no right to park.

On the face of it this seems like a reasonable case but we are more than a little aware of the propensity of Mormons in America to ‘privatise’ land in order to prevent reasonable access to those wishing to witness to passers by. Ironic considering the fact that when the temple was in its planning stage the Mormon Church was at pains to reassure locals that th
e activities of Mormon missionaries in the area would not appreciably increase. Contrary to reassurances the missionary activity in the area has increased considerably and locals are not altogether happy about it. We could have warned them. Come to think of it, we did warn them.