BIBLE CAMPS ‑- EXEMPTION FROM TAXATION.
Property of sectarian Bible camps should be tax exempt, provided the purposes for which it is used fall within the terms of the exemption statute.
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March 11, 1955
Honorable Mel T. Neal
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 55-57 No. 38
We have your letter of February 16, 1955, requesting our opinion on the following problem:
"Property of a sectarian bible camp, organized under the laws of the State of Washington which is a non-profit, religious, charitable and benevolent corporation has been assessed for property taxes. The bible camp's property is used substantially for the furtherance of character building of boys and girls under the age of 21 years. Such boys and girls may attend the bible camp without respect to sectarian affiliation."
You asked whether or not the property of such Bible camp is exempt from taxation under the provisions of RCW 84.36.030. In our opinion it is exempt, either partially or entirely, as developed in the text of this opinion.
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
RCW 84.36.030 provides in part as follows:
"The following property shall be exempt from taxation:
"Property of nonsectarian organizations or associations, organized and conducted primarily and chiefly for religious purposes and not for profit, which shall be used, or to the extent solely used, for the religious purposes of such associations, or for the educational, benevolent, protective, or social departments growing out of, or related to, the religious work of such associations;
"Property of nonprofit organizations or associations engaged in character building in boys and girls under twenty-one years of age, to the extent such property is necessarily employed and devoted solely to the said purposes, provided such purposes are for the general public good and such properties are devoted to the general public benefit;"
In Norwegian Lutheran Church v. Wooster, 176 Wash. 581, the court construed the first paragraph of the statute above quoted, on page 588 as follows:
"As we read the statute, it first exempts churches as such, and it was undoubtedly the legislative intent to exempt all churches without regard to denomination or sect. Realizing that churches usually are sectarian organizations, but that nonsectarian organizations might also exist and carry on religious work with educational, benevolent, protective and social [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] adjuncts, the act provides that their property so used shall likewise be exempted.
"As we see it, sectarianism has, therefore, nothing to do with the question here involved. Whether the owner be sectarian or nonsectarian, the use to which the property is devoted determines the question of exemption from taxation." (Emphasis supplied.)
To the same effect see Wesley Foundation v. King County, 185 Wash. 12, where the court said, at page 17:
"As we have seen, the Wesley Foundation itself is organized as a nonprofit, nonsectarian corporation, and the property involved is in the name of this corporation. But if it were otherwise, and the property belonged, in fact, to the Methodist Church, its status as exempt property would be the same. So long as the property is devoted to the uses contemplated by the statute, it is entitled to exemption, regardless of the sectarian character of the owner. That the activities of the Wesley Foundation are nonsectarian in a proper sense, we have no doubt."
Thus, it appears clear that if the use to which the Bible camp is devoted falls within the statutory language of either of the above‑quoted paragraphs, the property should be exempt from taxation. To this conclusion we must append two qualifications:
(1) If any portion of the premises is leased to another person or organization, irrespective of the purposes to which the leased portion is devoted, that part of the Bible camp will not enjoy its exemption status.
(2) The entire camp must be devoted to the purposes delineated in the exemption statute or the part not so used must pay property taxes. SeeNorwegian Lutheran Church v. Wooster, supra.
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
We sincerely hope the foregoing analysis of the problem you posed will be of assistance.
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General