Evangelical Baptist Benev. & Missionary Soc. v. City of Boston

Decision Date05 January 1910
Citation204 Mass. 28,90 N.E. 572
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

CITY Jan. 5, 1910.


&amp MISSIONARY SOC V CITY OF BOSTON 90 N.E. 572(1910)] Whipple, Sears & Ogden, for petitioner.

Thos M. Babson, for defendant.



Each of these cases is an appeal by the complainant to the superior court from the refusal of the assessors of the city of Boston to abate a tax assessed to the complainant. The complainant was incorporated by a special act of the Legislature (St 1857, p. 503, c. 154) 'for the purpose of securing the constant maintenance, in said Boston, of evangelical preaching for the young and destitute, with free seats, for the employment of colporteur and missionary laborers in Boston and elsewhere, for the purpose of providing suitable central apartments to other and kindred benevolent missionary societies, and for the general purpose of ministering to the spiritual wants of the needy and destitute.' By section 2 of the act it was authorized to hold real and personal estate to the amount of $350,000, and this property was exempted from taxation. It is now holding property, the fair valuation of which is $911,000, and upon its application to have this larger amount exempted from taxation it was decided in a suit brought by this complainant against the city of Boston, reported in 192 Mass. 412, 78 N.E. 407, that its right to an exemption is limited to the amount named in its charter.

In the present complaint it puts its claim upon different grounds, and contends that it is entitled to exemption under Rev. Laws, c. 12, § 5, cl. 7, which is as follows:

'Seventh. Houses of religious worship owned by or held in trust for the use of any religious organization, and the pews and furniture; but the exemption shall not extend to the portions of such houses appropriated for purposes other than religious worship or instruction.'

The complainant's constitution recites that 'this society is organized for the purpose of receiving, holding and managing the estate known as the Tremont Temple, in accordance with the provisions of the act of incorporation,' etc. From the time of its incorporation it has owned and managed this real estate, with different buildings upon it at different times, and new structures have been erected to replace those injured or destroyed by fire. The property is in a very attractive and important part of the business district of Boston. The present building, like those that preceded it, is used in part for business and in part for religious purposes. Important portions of it were originally constructed and have always been used exclusively for the transaction of business. Other parts have been used regularly both for religious and business purposes. These parts include five halls--Converse Hall, Lorimer Hall, Chapman Hall, Gilbert Hall and Social Hall--with the Blue Room, parlors, corridors and other appurtenances. These have all been used regularly by Tremont Temple Baptist Church for religious purposes, & MISSIONARY SOC V CITY OF BOSTON 90 N.E. 572(1910)] and have also been rented very frequently, and as often as opportunity offered without interfering with the regular uses by this church, for secular gatherings, and for different religious gatherings of other organizations. It has been an important part of the business of the complainant to obtain an income from these rentals, although the rental value of the use by the Tremont Temple Baptist Church has been largely in excess of the rent received from other parties for the use of the same parts of the building. Converse Hall has been used as the main auditorium of this church.

It becomes necessary to consider the meaning of Rev. Laws, c 12, § 5, cl. 7, above quoted. The purpose of the provision was to exempt from taxation ordinary church edifices, owned and used in the usual way for religious worship. Probably such an unusual condition as appears in this case was never contemplated by the framers of the statute. The special provision about ownership or holding in trust was first enacted by St. 1865, p. 609, c. 206. The form of this statute, as well as the more condensed forms of the later revisions of it (see Pub. St. 1882, c. 11, § 5, cl. 7; Rev. Laws ubi supra), which were not intended to change its meaning, implies that the exemption was intended only for houses owned by, or held in trust for, religious organizations that occupied and used them for worship. We are of opinion that this clause of the present revision should be construed as if the words 'occupying and using them as such' were inserted after the words 'religious...

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