West Law Report

Mormon Temple is not a place of public worship

Posted in House of Lords (case), Times Law Report by mrkooenglish on August 8, 2008

From The TimesAugust 7, 2008

Mormon Temple is not a place of public worship
House of Lords
Published August 7, 2008
Gallagher (Valuation Officer) v Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Before Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Carswell and Lord Mance
Speeches July 30, 2008

A Mormon Temple, which was open only to Mormons in good standing, was not a place of public religious worship within the meaning of paragraph 11(1)(a) of Schedule 5 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 and was thus not exempt from the rating list.

The House of Lords so held in dismissing an appeal by the taxpayer, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, from a decision of the Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Mummery, Lord Justice Jacob and Lord Justice Neuberger) ([2006] EWCA Civ 1598) upholding a preliminary determination by the President of the Lands Tribunal, Sir George Bartlett, QC, on November 3, 2005, allowing an appeal by the Revenue and Customs from a decision of the Lancashire Valuation Tribunal on October 21, 2004, which overturned a decision of the valuation officer, Mr James Gallagher, who held, inter alia, that the Mormon Temple at Chorley, Lancashire, was not exempt from the rating list under paragraph 11.

Mr Jonathan Sumption, QC and Mr Richard Glover for the church; Mr Timothy Mould, QC and Mr Daniel Kolinsky for the valuation officer; Mr Philip Sales, QC and Mr Tim Ward for the Secretary of State of Communities and Local Government, intervening.

LORD HOFFMANN said that the difficulty for the church was that the same point had been decided more than 40 years ago by the House in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints v Henning (Valuation Officer) ([1964] AC 420).

The question had been whether a Mormon Temple was exempt from rates as a place of public religious worship within the meaning of section 7(2)(a) of the Rating and Valuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1955. The House held that the words could not apply to places used for religious worship from which the public was excluded.

Although there was no rigid rule that words used in an Act of Parliament had to be given the same construction as the courts had given those words in an earlier Act, it was inconceivable that Parliament did not intend the phrase to carry the meaning which it had been given in Henning.

The legislature had had at least two opportunities, in 1988 and 1992, to reconsider the matter and had not done so. Henning was, therefore, conclusive against the appellants on that point.

It was next submitted that a different construction was required by section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The exclusion of all but approved members of the church was a manifestation by the Mormons of their religion. Therefore, to deny them exemption on that ground would be to discriminate against them on the ground of religion, contrary to articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The 1988 Act did not discriminate on the ground of religion. The rule that exemption was accorded to places of worship only if they were open to the public was perfectly general. Anyone could comply.

The case was not one in which the Mormons were taxed on account of their religion. It was only that their religion prevented them from providing the public benefit necessary to secure a tax advantage. That was an altogether different matter.

Furthermore, even if it could be regarded as a case of indirect discrimination, it was justified. Parliament had a wide discretion in deciding what should be regarded as a sufficient public benefit to justify exemption from taxation and it was entitled to take the view that public access to religious services was such a benefit.

Lord Hope and Lord Scott delivered concurring opinions; Lord Carswell and Lord Mance agreed.

Solicitors: Devonshires; Solicitor, Revenue and Customs; Treasury Solicitor.

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