On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Sues Over Discrimination of a Christian Study Center, Warns That First Amendment Requires Equality for All Religious Beliefs
Christian Scholars Network v. Blacksburg et al
CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Christian ministry’s right to be treated equally with other religious and charitable organizations which provide similar services.
Through the Bradley Study Center, the Christian Scholars Network (CSN) ministers to the Virginia Tech community by holding worship services, prayer meetings, Bible studies and weekly theological discussions and fellowship. The Rutherford Institute is challenging a local government’s refusal to recognize CSN as a religious association that uses its property exclusively for charitable, religious, or educational purposes, which would thereby qualify CSN for a property tax exemption given to nonprofit religious organizations under the Virginia Constitution and state laws. Attorneys affiliated with The Rutherford Institute filed suit in the Montgomery County Circuit Court against the County and the Town of Blacksburg after the Commissioner of the Revenue refused to reverse the denial of tax exemption for CSN’s property, even though the County provides a property tax exemption to a similar organization for college students of another religion.
“The First Amendment not only affirms the right to religious freedom for people of all faiths, but it also requires that the government treat all faiths equally and not favoring or disfavoring one over the other,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “This is the slippery slope that affects us all, whether you’re talking about religious freedom, free speech or privacy: if the government is allowed to deny freedom to one segment of the citizenry, it will eventually extend that tyranny to all citizens.”
Christian Scholars Network, Inc. is a nonprofit ministry which has been exempt from federal income tax by the IRS under section 501(c)(3). In 2019, CSN purchased real estate near the Virginia Tech campus and opened the Bradley Study Center to cultivate a thoughtful exploration of the Christian faith and how one’s faith connects to their studies, work, and life. CSN uses the Bradley Study Center property for worship services, prayer meetings, studies and discussions on the Bible and theological books, and a Fellows Program for Virginia Tech students to meet weekly for theological discussions and fellowship. Government officials, however, did not deem all these activities to be “worship” or CSN to be a “religious association.” But a religious studies scholar has opined as a potential expert witness that CSN’s activities at the Bradley Study Center constitute worship. After Rutherford Institute affiliate attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of CSN, the government moved to dismiss the suit. Following briefing on the government’s arguments, the court ruled against the government and held that all but one of CSN’s claims could proceed to trial, which is expected to take place within the next year.
Affiliate attorneys Melvin E. Williams and Meghan A. Strickler of Williams & Strickler, PLC are representing CSN as counsel of record in the case.
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated, and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.