Board of Trustees of Kansas East Conference of United Methodist Church v. Cogswell

Decision Date17 July 1970
Docket NumberNo. 46006,46006
Citation205 Kan. 847,473 P.2d 1
PartiesBOARD OF TRUSTEES OF the KANSAS EAST CONFERENCE OF the UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, formerly The Kansas Conference of The Methodist Church, Appellant, v. Kenneth M. COGSWELL, County Clerk of Shawnee County, Kansas, Dean E. Yingling, County Treasurer of Shawnee County, Kansas, and John R. Hiller, Richard B. Hanger (J. W. Tolin substituted for Richard B. Hanger), and Maurice L. Towle, Board of County Commissioners, Shawnee County, Kansas, Appellees.
CourtKansas Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. In an action to recover taxes paid under protest on the administrative office building of the United Methodist Church in Kansas, the record is examined on appeal and it is held: The property is used exclusively for church purposes as provided by Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution and K.S.A. 79-201, Third, and is exempt form taxation.

2. It is firmly established in this jurisdiction that constitutional and statutory provisions exemption property from taxation are to be strictly construed and all doubts resolved against the tax exemption. But a strict construction of tax exemption provisions in the constitution and statutes does not warrant an unreasonable construction of such laws.

3. The exemption of property from taxation declared in Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution is a property exemption based solely upon the exclusive use made of the property. Ownership or title to the property is not a determining factor.

4. The question in determining whether property is exempt from taxation under Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution is not whether the property is used partly, or even largely, for the purposes stated in the exemption provisions, but whether it is used exclusively for those purposes.

5. Where the constitution of the state of Kansas provides that all property used exclusively for certain purposes shall be exempt from taxation, the legislature can broaden the tax exemption permitted by the constitution, but it cannot limit or curtail the constitutional provisions.

6. To interpret the word 'exclusively' found in Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution granting a tax exemption to property 'used exclusively for * * * religious * * * purposes' to mean only that which is also 'directly' and 'immediately' used for religious purposes is unrealistic and would in substance add a new dimension to the constitutional provision thereby limiting the tax exemption.

7. Where prior decisions of the Supreme Court have used the words 'directly' and 'immediately' in conjunction with 'exclusively' when discussing the tax exemption authorized by Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution, it cannot be said their application was necessarily required by the constitution as a basis for the decision. The words were explanatory or descriptive of the facts rather than controlling in the decision-making process, and their use must be considered in the light of the facts in the particular case in which the appear.

8. K.S.A.1968 Supp. 79-201 specifically lists thirteen different situations where the legislature granted property tax exemptions, and compliance with no more than one ground is necessary to establish an exemption.

9. Property used for administrative offices essential to a well organized and efficient system for providing religious, charitable, benevolent or educational benefits to the citizens of Kansas, if used exclusively for religious, charitable, benevolent or educational purposes, falls within the constitutional provision exempting property 'used exclusively for * * * literary, educational, scientific, religious, benevolent and charitable purposes.'

David H. Fisher, of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith, Topeka, and E. Gene McKinney, of Marshall, Hawks, McKinney & Hundley, Topeka, argued the cause and were on the brief for appellant.

Robert D. Hecht, of Scott, Quinlan, Hecht & Baxter, Topeka, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellees.

Emmet A. Blaes and J. Francis Hesse, of Jochems, Sargent & Blaes, Wichita, were on the brief for The Kansas Catholic Conference, amici curiae.

Ralph F. Glenn, of Glenn, Cornish & Leuenberger, Topeka, was on the brief for The Kansas Christian Churches and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, amicus curiae.

SCHROEDER, Justice.

This is an action to recover taxes paid under protest on the administrative office building of the United Methodist Church in Kansas located in Topeka. The trial court denied relief and appeal has been duly perfected.

The underlying question is whether the church property in question is exempt from taxation under Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution and K.S.A. 79-201, Third.

There is no dispute in the facts. The parties stipulated that the use of the property in question and the improvements thereon were covered by the testimony of W. McFerrin Stowe, Robert Kendall, Roger Biddle and Glen Matthews.

The real estate and improvements occupied by the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church, formerly the Kansas Conference of the Methodist Church, are owned by the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church, herein referred to as the 'Conference,' by and through its board of trustees.

The building is used for the offices of the Bishop of the Methodist Church of the State of Kansas; the District Superintendent of the Topeka District of the Methodist Church; the Executive Secretary of the Interboard Council of the Methodist Church; the Assistant Secretary of the Interboard Council of the Methodist Church for Children; the Superintendent of Ministry of the Methodist Church for the State of Kansas; and the Superintendent of Campus Ministry of the Methodist Church for the State of Kansas. All of the foregoing persons who occupy the building are ministers of the Methodist Church, with the exception of their secretaries, and devote their efforts to carrying on the ministry and work of the Methodist Church.

The tract and building are located in Topeka, Kansas, adjacent to the Lowman United Methodist Church on West Fifteenth Street immediately west of Gage Boulevard.

It was stipulated by the parties that the Conference, by and through its board of trustees, purchased the real estate in July, 1966, and commenced the construction of the building thereon in July, 1967, which it now occupies. The property was placed on the tax rolls of Shawnee County, Kansas, and a real property tax was assessed against it in the amount of $1,642.42 for the year 1968. This sum of money was paid under protest by the plaintiff on December 17, 1968, and on December 26, 1968, this action was filed to recover the taxes paid under protest.

The building houses the following administrative officers and their staff:

W. McFerrin Stowe, Bishop of Kansas, who assigns the ministers to the churches and gives guidance in the aspects of church life to the Methodist colleges and universities. As chief pastor, he preaches almost every Sunday all over the state.

Rev. Robert Kendall, the Executive Secretary of the Conference, who serves as a 'minister of ministers,' and trains pastors and leaders to work on the board of missions, evangelism and education. James Uhlig, assistant to Rev. Kendall, works with the youth programs and plans summer camps and institutes.

Roger Biddle, District Superintendent, who is responsible for 89 churches in the Topeka district and is concerned with the assignment of pastors and any counseling they may need concerning their lives and their work. He preaches nearly every Sunday.

Glen Matthew, Area Superintendent of Ministry, who works in the field of career development for the ministers. He preaches sermons by invitation.

This Conference contains some 900 churches and 650 ministers in Kansas. No persons other than those associated with the Kansas Conference ever use the building. It is never rented out to any other persons. All financial support of the Conference comes from gifts of the local church members, and the Conference treasurer pays the expenses of the building and the salaries of those who work in the building from such funds. There is no responsibility at the Conference level to raise funds; the Conference has no assets other than what the colleges may have; there is no management of income-producing properties; and no one in the building participates in the investment of church funds.

The appellant contends the property is used exclusively for religious purposes and is not a center for fund raising or the financial management of church assets.

Article 11, Section 1 of the Kansas constitution provides:

'System of taxation; classification; exemption. The legislature shall provide for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation, except that mineral products, money, mortgages, notes and other evidence of debt may be classified and taxed uniformly as to class as the legislature shall provide. All property used exclusively for state, county, municipal, literary, educational, scientific, religious, benevolent and charitable purposes, and all household goods and personal effects not used for the production of income, shall be exempted from taxation.' (Emphasis added.)

Consistent with the above cited constitutional provision the legislature enacted K.S.A. 79-201, which in material part provides:

'That the property described in this section, to the extent herein limited, shall be exempt from taxation:

'First. All buildings used exclusively as places of public worship, as public schoolhouses or both, with the furniture and books therein contained and used exclusively for the accommodation of schools and religious meetings, together with the grounds owned thereby if not leased or otherwise used with a view to profit.

'Third. All real property, and all tangible personal property, actually and regularly used exclusively for literary, educational, scientific, religious, benevolent or charitable purposes:...

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