IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
FRANKLIN COUNTY, ILLINOIS
THREE ANGELS BROADCASTING
DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE OF THE
STATE OF ILLINOIS,
THOMPSONVILLE COMMUNITY HIGH
SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 112 and
THOMPSONVILLE SCHOOL DIST.
NO. 62, and FRANKLIN COUNTY BOARD
Case No.: No. 2004-MR-0015
THREE ANGELS BROADCASTING
NETWORK'S REPLY TO APPELLEES'
OPPOSITION TO ITS APPEAL BRIEF
Appellant Three Angels Broadcasting Network, Inc.
hereby replies to the three opposition briefs filed by Appellees
in this case. In seventy-seven pages of briefing, the opposition
has raised numerous points and issues, many of which are peripheral
or unrelated to the central issues of this case. Three Angels
will limit its response to three main points:
First, that despite their multiplicity of points in contention,
the opposition recognizes that the most important and central
issue in this case is whether the subject properties are used
for religious purposes. Further, the opposition recognizes that
the judge made inappropriate rulings and remarks relating to
Three Angels' religious purposes in dealing with this central
question. But the opposition themselves are inconsistent in asserting
whether television broadcasting can ever be a religious activity.
Second, the Appellees also recognize the importance of the
factors set down in the Inter-Varsity case. They badly misread,
however, the record in applying that standard to this case in
relation to Three Angels' corporate structure, scope of its missionary
activities, and the relevance of its revenue and assets.
Third, there are a number of issues peripheral to this case,
such as board makeup, and royalty payments, that Appellees try
to make far too much of on a far too limited record. Indeed,
the hearing officer's findings on these points are supported
by essentially no evidence, and should be reversed. Nothing Appellees
raise should prevent this Court from reversing the ruling below
and granting Three Angels a property tax exemption.
||The central question in the case is whether the programming and
activities carried out by Three Angels at the subject property are religious in nature.
||The Board of Review acknowledges that the hearing officer
made inappropriate rulings regarding the religious nature of
Three Angels' programming, but dismisses these rulings as dicta, which they are not.
Appellee Board of Review recognizes that the hearing officer
made inappropriate comments and rulings regarding the religious
nature of Three Angels' programming, and is thus forced, in defending
the decision, to describe these as "dicta." This tactic occurs
in the context of all the Appellees agreeing on one thing: the
central issue in this case is whether the subject "property was
used primarily for religious purposes." (School Districts Brief.
p. 13, hereafter "SD #"); See, (Board of Review Brief, p. 2,
16-17, hereafter "BR#"); (Department of Revenue Brief, p. 12,
14, hereafter "DR #). The question, of course, is whether Three
Angels' activities and programming meet the standard of religious
use and purpose.
Some of the opposition wants to begin and end the discussion
of religious purpose with the case of The People v. Deutsche
Gemeinde, which talks in terms of "worship, Sunday schools and
religious instruction."1 DR 12; SD 14. But the more informed Appellees
recognize that this dated case is merely a starting point, and
that these uses are "not inclusive" but rather "illustrative
of the nature of religious use." BR 19.
The point the Board of Review attempts to obscure is that
the hearing officer inappropriately ruled that Three Angels programming
was not religious. The Board is perfectly correct in saying that
it is "improper to evaluate the propriety of religious beliefs."
BR 24. But the Board erroneously claims that the hearing officer's
decision was not "based on the content of the programming or
publications." Id. In a footnote, the Board attempts to "clarify"
this obvious misstatement by suggesting that the hearing officer's
comments about Three Angels' programming being "lifestyle" and
"not a religion" was "simply dicta." BR 24.
Why is this merely dicta? The hearing officer did not say
it was dicta. She was not writing hypothetically or in the alternative
or giving a separate basis for her decision. This is a very important
point, because by the Board of Review's own standards, if this
statement by the hearing officer was not dicta, then her ruling
was legally improper and should be reversed.
Because this claim of "dicta" is so important, the broader
context of the hearing officer's statement must be quoted: "Applicant
is advocating a way of life, but it is a lifestyle that applicant
favors, not a religion. Leasing or otherwise using property to
promote a lifestyle and to market merchandise does not qualify
as a use of property for primarily religious purposes." Notice
of Decision, p. 31-32.
249 Ill.132, 136-37 (1911).
The officer's statement goes to the central issue in the case,
is the activity religious. She ruled that the programming involved
was not religious, but was a "lifestyle," and thus the property
was not used "for primarily religious purposes." Far from being
dicta, this question of the content of the programming and whether
it was religious becomes the central point in the case. Thus,
by Appellee's own standards, the hearing officer's ruling was
inappropriate, unlawful, and should be reversed.
||Appellees claim that a television broadcaster can never qualify as a
religious ministry. This shows the double standard at work in denying
Three Angels' discovery on other broadcasting ministries in Illinois.
According to the Board of Review, the hearing officer's decision
below stands for the proposition that "television broadcasting
was not a religious activity in and of itself, regardless of
the content of the broadcasts." BR 1. Indeed, so certain is the
Board of Review that religious content cannot turn television
broadcasting into a religious activity that it accepts and asserts
that Three Angels programming "content was religious." BR 24. It
concludes, however, "the content does not make the act of publishing
or television broadcasting a religious activity." BR 24.
While we agree with the Board that Three Angels' programming
content is religious, the hearing officer below did not do so.
She did not, at least in part, because to have done so would
reveal the double standard that the Board of Review has walked
into. That is, that there are other religious broadcasters in
Illinois who are treated as religious ministries. To assert the
rule, as the Board of Review does, that Three Angels cannot get
a religious exemption because no television broadcasters can
qualify for one, no matter what the content, merely demonstrates
the unequal application of the law, in violation of equal protection
and laws against religious discrimination. a
The Board of Review should well be aware of this inconsistency,
as they later assert that Three Angels should not be allowed
to discover and submit evidence relating to other Illinois religious
broadcasters. They allege that as each year and each case is
unique, "it makes no difference if another television broadcaster
received a property tax exemption." BR 37.
The rule being asserted against Three Angels is that "no television
broadcaster' can receive an exemption, regardless of content.
The Board argues that broadcasting is an inherently "commercial"
activity, like baking, or farming, or paper-making, that can
never be considered 'religious." One could argue with this list
of "secular" activities, as there are no doubt monastery vineyards,
church cafeterias, and perhaps even religious publishing-house
paper mills that qualify as 'religious."
But one need not agree with these points to accept that it
is indeed highly relevant, for constitutional purposes, whether
other Illinois religious broadcasters receive an exemption. Three
Angels has the right to assert this claim, and should be given
the opportunity for discovery and record-making on this point,
should this Court choose not to directly reverse the decision
II. The Opposition also largely accept the applicability of
Inter-Varsity factors, but misapply those factors.
As Appellees recognize, the case of Inter-Varsity Christian
Fellowship v. Hollman,3is important in assessing this case. Both
the briefs of the Board of Review and the School Districts spend
significant space analyzing and applying the five prongs of the
The Board's contention that Three Angels has not provided
the legal basis for their constitutional claims (BR 37) completely
misses the point that Three Angels is requesting further fact-gathering
on this issue, as it has been denied basic discovery on this
issue. Once Three Angels has developed the facts, it will be
in a position to flesh out its legal arguments on this point.
In the meantime, it is sufficient, as was done in the appeal
brief, to reference the equal protection and religious clauses
of the Illinois State and federal constitutions which forbid
disparate treatment of similarly situated religious organizations.
62 Ill.App.3d 798 (2nd Dist. 1978).
this case. BR 32-35; SD 21-23. They err, however, in dealing
with at least three issues under this test: First, they erroneously
claim that the corporate structure of Three Angels disqualifies
it from receiving a religious exemption; second, they ignore
the scope of missionary activity associated with Three Angels;
and third, they misconstrue the significance of Three Angels
revenue and assets.
||Both religious corporations AND not-for-profit corporations
can qualify for the religious property tax exemption.
The School Districts argue that because Three Angels has not
organized under the Illinois Religious Corporations Act that
it cannot qualify for the religious property tax exemption. SD
12-13. This is plainly wrong. A review of the Religious Corporations
Act at 805 ILCS 110 shows that it is a very narrow Act, intended
only for churches and groups involved in religious worship that
have attached congregations. Many religious organizations do
not fit in this narrow category; yet still have a religious purpose.
This is demonstrated by the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship,
Evangelical Teachers Training Assoc., and the Congregation Sunday
School cases, as none of the plaintiffs in these cases were houses
of worship. In the first two cases mentioned, the applicants
were described generally as "not-for-profit corporation[s],"
and no mention is made of the religious organizations statute.4
The applicant in the latter case also could not qualify under
the Religious Corporations Act, as the Illinois Supreme Court
long ago said that the Act was only for church congregations
and houses of worship, and not other types of religious organizations.
Hamsher v. Hamsher, 23 N.E. 23 (Ill. 1890).
The property-tax-exemption statute is written more broadly
than the Religious Corporations Act, however, and is not limited
to property used merely for "religious
62 Ill.App.3d at 801; 118 Ill. App. 3d 21, 22.
worship," but uses the broader phrase religious purposes.
The School Districts are caught up in a technical form of organization
that is not required by Illinois law. The only requirement is
that Three Angels be a not-for-profit corporation, which it is,
and that it has a charter setting out exclusively religious and
charitable purposes, which it does.