In re God, 2011–368.

CourtSupreme Court of New Hampshire
Writing for the CourtCONBOY
Citation163 N.H. 622,44 A.3d 507
PartiesAppeal of LIBERTY ASSEMBLY OF GOD (New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals).
Docket NumberNo. 2011–368.,2011–368.
Decision Date22 May 2012

163 N.H. 622
44 A.3d 507

Appeal of LIBERTY ASSEMBLY OF GOD (New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals).

No. 2011–368.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire.

Argued: Feb. 9, 2012.
Opinion Issued: May 22, 2012.

[44 A.3d 509]

Lisa A. Biron, of Manchester, by brief and orally, and Alliance Defense Fund, of Leawood, Kansas (Joel Oster on the brief), for the petitioner.

City Solicitor's Office, of Concord (James Kennedy and Danielle L. Pacik on the brief, and Ms. Pacik orally), for the respondent.


[163 N.H. 624]The petitioner, Liberty Assembly of God (Assembly), appeals the decision of the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) upholding a 2008 decision of the respondent, City of Concord (City), denying Assembly's request for a religious use tax exemption. We affirm.

The following facts are drawn from the record. Assembly is a “regularly recognized and constituted” religious denomination, incorporated in the State of New Hampshire. RSA 72:23, III (2003). Assembly owns 26.13 acres of land in Concord; approximately twenty acres are in “current use.” See RSA ch. 79–A (2003

[44 A.3d 510]

& Supp.2011). The undeveloped land is used primarily for agricultural or forestry purposes, although there is a “prayer trail” around its perimeter. The developed portion of Assembly's property includes a main building, a freestanding barn now used for storage, and the parsonage and associated garage.

From 1994, when Assembly acquired its property, until 2008, the City granted Assembly a religious use tax exemption on all of its property. However, in 2008, the City granted Assembly an exemption on only forty percent of its property, concluding that sixty percent of the property was not used and occupied for religious training or other religious purposes, and was therefore taxable. The City subsequently revised its determination and exempted sixty percent of the property.

The City exempted from taxation the storage barn, parsonage and garage, and one of the six acres of land not in current use “appertaining to them.” RSA 72:23, III. The remaining five acres not in current use were allocated as taxable or exempt at the same proportion as the taxable and exempt square footage of the main building; 2.2 acres were assessed as a [163 N.H. 625]primary commercial site supporting the main building and 2.8 acres were assessed as supplemental commercial land. The City arrived at the sixty percent exempt/ forty percent taxable ratio based upon the use of various areas of the combined square footage of both floors of the main building.

The City concluded that of the 13,988 square feet of the first floor, 12,516 square feet were exempt as they were used directly for religious purposes; this included the sanctuary, church offices, child care space, prayer room, recreation room, kitchen and fellowship hall, library and record room, classrooms and computer lab, food pantry, storage rooms, and restrooms. The remaining 1,472 square feet on the first floor, consisting of an apartment and an additional room available for missionaries on furlough, were considered taxable under the City's assessment. These rooms were not used by furloughed missionaries at any time during 2008, and only three or four times during the preceding four-year period.

The City considered the entire second floor of the main building (6,916 square feet) taxable as not being used for religious purposes. This space consisted of five general areas: (1) an apartment and two storage rooms occupied or utilized by a part-time caretaker and his family; (2) a room occupied by the grandson of Assembly's then-secretary/treasurer; (3) vacant apartments; (4) “dorm” rooms minimally used for storage; and (5) a men's restroom, auxiliary to the restrooms on the first floor. Following appeal, the BTLA upheld the City's apportionment for tax year 2008.

Our review of BTLA decisions is well established:

The burden of proof shall be upon the party seeking to set aside any order or decision of the BTLA to show that the same is clearly unreasonable or unlawful, and all findings of the BTLA upon all questions of fact properly before it shall be deemed to be prima facie lawful and reasonable; and the order or decision appealed from shall not be set aside or vacated except for errors of law, unless the court is satisfied, by a clear preponderance of the evidence before it, that such order is unjust or unreasonable.

Appeal of City of Concord, 161 N.H. 169, 171, 13 A.3d 287 (2010) (quotation and brackets omitted); seeRSA 541:13 (2007). “Although we review the [BTLA's] findings of fact pursuant to this deferential

[44 A.3d 511]

standard, we review its statutory interpretation de novo.Appeal of Gamas, 158 N.H. 646, 648, 972 A.2d 1025 (2009).

Assembly asserts that the BTLA's ruling was erroneous on three interrelated grounds: (1) the City and the BTLA misinterpreted RSA 72:23, III because it should be read as fully exempting houses of worship from taxation; (2) the City's inquiries into the religious uses and purposes of each room within the church building unconstitutionally “entangled” the [163 N.H. 626]government with religion; and (3) even if the statute and constitution permit parsing taxable from exempt space within a house of worship, all of Assembly's space should be exempt as serving a religious purpose. We address each argument in turn.

I. Whether RSA 72:23, III Fully Exempts Houses of Worship from Taxation

The statutory provision setting forth the tax exemption at issue states in pertinent part:

The following real estate and personal property shall, unless otherwise provided by statute, be exempt from taxation: ...


Houses of public worship, parish houses, church parsonages occupied by their pastors, convents, monasteries, buildings and the lands appertaining to them owned, used and occupied directly for religious training or for other religious purposes by any regularly recognized and constituted denomination, creed or sect, organized, incorporated or legally doing business in this state and the personal property used by them for the purposes for which they are established.

RSA 72:23, III.

Assembly argues that, pursuant to the “last antecedent rule” of statutory construction, see Gen. Insulation Co. v. Eckman Constr., 159 N.H. 601, 610, 992 A.2d 613 (2010), courts should construe statutes so that “a modifying clause is confined to the last antecedent unless there is something in the subject matter or dominant purpose which requires a different interpretation.” Mt. Valley Mall Assocs. v. Municipality of Conway, 144 N.H. 642, 652, 745 A.2d 481 (2000) (quotation omitted). Thus, it urges us to read RSA 72:23, III as creating five religious use exemptions that are not modified by the clause “owned, used and occupied directly for religious training or for other religious purposes”—that is, “[h]ouses of public worship,” “parish houses,” “church parsonages occupied by their pastors,” “convents,” and “monasteries.” It argues that the clause modifies only the last category of property—that is, “buildings and the lands appertaining to them.” Thus, once a structure is determined to be among the first five enumerated categories, it is automatically exempt from taxation, and any analysis of the extent to which it is “owned, used and occupied” for religious purposes is improper. Moreover, Assembly maintains that qualification as one of these first five enumerated structures is essentially definitional: “[I]f the building, owned [163 N.H. 627]by the church, is its ‘house of public worship [,]’ it is used and occupied for a religious purpose, and room-by-room scrutiny is inappropriate, unworkable, and unconstitutional.” The City counters that, reading the statute as a whole, the qualifying phrase “owned, used and occupied directly for religious training or other religious purposes” is intended to modify all of the enumerated properties set forth in RSA 72:23, III, including “houses of public worship.”

“In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiters of the legislature's intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a

[44 A.3d 512]

whole.” Appeal of City of Nashua, 155 N.H. 443, 445, 924 A.2d 418 (2007). When examining the language of a statute, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used. Id. We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include. Id. In construing a religious exemption statute, we adopt neither a liberal attitude because it is a charity, nor a hostile attitude because it seeks exemption from taxation. Id. “We review legislative history to aid our analysis when the statutory language is ambiguous or subject to more than one reasonable interpretation.” First Berkshire Bus. Trust v. Comm'r, N.H. Dep't of Revenue Admin., 161 N.H. 176, 180, 13 A.3d 232 (2010).

Both the City's and Assembly's constructions of RSA 72:23, III are reasonable. Accordingly, the language of RSA 72:23, III is ambiguous. See id.

We implicitly construed a prior version of the statute as urged by the City. In Alton Bay Camp Meeting Association v. Town of Alton, 109 N.H. 44, 242 A.2d 80 (1968), the version of RSA 72:23, III then in effect exempted from taxation “houses of public worship, parish houses, church parsonages occupied by their pastors, convents, monasteries, buildings used principally for religious training or for other religious purposes, and the lands thereto appertaining owned and occupied by any regularly recognized and constituted denomination.” (Quotation omitted; emphasis added.) We held that the statute required the applicant to establish that the purportedly exempt land “be ‘appertaining’ to one or more of the types of buildings specified as exempt in RSA 72:23[,] III.” Alton Bay, 109 N.H. at 49, 242 A.2d 80 (emphasis added). By considering the modifying clause, “lands thereto appertaining” to govern exemptions for...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8 cases
  • State v. Forest, 2010–679.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of New Hampshire
    • May 22, 2012
    ...not credited.” People v. Johnson, 283 Mich.App. 303, 769 N.W.2d 905, 910 (2009) (finding that defendant who committed new offenses [163 N.H. 622]while on parole was not entitled to pretrial confinement credit on those offenses for time served awaiting trial because the time served was credi......
  • State v. Furgal, 2011–322.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of New Hampshire
    • December 21, 2012
    ...with the intent of the legislature as expressed in the language of those statutes as written. See Appeal of Liberty Assembly of God, 163 N.H. 622, 627, 44 A.3d 507 (2012) ("In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiters of the legislature's intent as expressed in the word......
  • State v. Beausoleil, 218-2013-CR-0282
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Hampshire
    • April 16, 2013
    ...history of those provisions to determine the meaning of the language contained in the statute. See In re Liberty Assembly of God, 163 N.H. 622, 627 (2012) ("We review legislative history to aid our analysis when the statutory language is ambiguous or subject to more than one reasonable inte......
  • Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese in N.H. v. Town of Durham, 2015–0671
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of New Hampshire
    • December 9, 2016
    ...its use of the property for those purposes must be more than "slight, negligible or insignificant." Appeal of Liberty Assembly of God, 163 N.H. 622, 634, 44 A.3d 507 (2012) (quotation omitted). Property is not exempt when it is used by private individuals "for their own private and secular ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT