A south Nashville church was back in court this week, appealing an earlier court ruling that taxes some of its properties that were considered businesses.
The biggest issues for Christ Church Nashville is where the line between church and state is drawn.
The battle started in 2007 when a random tax assessment ruled that a bookstore, gym and cafe were run like businesses and should be taxed although they are on church property.
A court decision backed that two years later, and the church was billed $425,000 in back taxes.
Now, five years since that initial assessment, the church returned to court to appeal.
"Jesus, himself, said 'If the emperor says pay tax, pay your taxes,'" said the Rev. Dan Scott, senior pastor at Christ Church Nashville.
Scott said the church isn't trying to get out of anything. However, he said the money from the three properties in question went into outreach programs, so they should be tax exempt.
While the court battles continue, the church has closed the coffee shop, turned operations of the gym over to the YMCA and the cookbooks and gifts are gone from the bookstore. Only religious items remain on sale.
Scott said the purpose of the appeal is to answer one big question.
"Where is that line to where you cross it? We didn't know we were in violation," Scott said.
Church officials claim their main concerns are that other church facilities across the state and college bookstores are exempt from property taxes. Plus, when the church built the facilities in 2004, leaders said they complied with the county's requirements banning store fronts and advertising.
The Tennessee State Board of Equalization argues other churches such as Mt. Zion in Antioch pay property taxes on their bookstores. In addition, Christ Church Nashville was charging retail prices and membership fees rather than accepting donations, which would qualify the properties as businesses.
Scott said he expects to win the appeal based on the First Amendment and hopes that win will create a mandate for church tax exemptions across the state.
Representatives for the state's tax exemption authority said they would not comment on camera until the court makes a ruling.
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