Most of you are aware the Maetreum has been involved in a seven year plus battle with the Town of Catskill, NY over our religious property tax exemption. Last fall we won in the Appellate Court of New York and this made the town powers that be very nervous because they no longer had any basis to deny us that exemption. They filed an appeal to the highest NY court and that is now ongoing but they did not ask for or were granted a stay on our victory.
What's a Catskillian bigot to do? Why dig back into the bag of tricks that did not work in 2009, that what! Code violation, yeah, that'll work so they scheduled a “fire and safety” inspection to take place a mere two days before the deadline for filing for this year's exemption. Trouble is we saw through this immediately and refused the inspection. You see for all those years Catskill's legal position is we are “merely a residence” and not a real church....until it's inspection time, then we are the real deal churchwise. All well and good except for one thing. We do live here. Most people are unaware you can invoke your 4'th Amendment rights to refuse a safety inspection of your home and we did so in writing but we have additional legal protections under a Federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). That law was written specifically for cases like ours and shifts a very very high burden of proof on a town once invoked.
Unless you are a town run by criminals that is. Not yet convicted criminals mind you but that may change soon. Let's be kind and call them scofflaws instead, an older term that fits perfectly.
So, two exchanges of letters with the Code office and we invoked all our rights in both. Mind you, there are two different US Supreme Court decisions that make it clear that once 4'th Amendment rights are invoked, the town must get a warrant to do an inspection and the second of those two ruling also made it clear that no legal jeopardy can be attached (no charges of any kind) until that happens. It also raised the bar on proof to get that warrant. RLUIPA raises that bar WAY the hell up from that.
Ok, now the Board of Assessment Review (BOAR) hearing is almost upon us, what is a Catskillian bigot to do when the first move was countered? Why issue a third letter demanding the inspection or else, the or else being that very legal jeopardy that the Supremes says is a no no.... But we must inspect before the hearing, find them in violation of something and use that as cover for denying the exemption! Wrong again moosebreath, in order to make it stick you have to actually cite the section of code we were in violation of and when we checked it out with the legal definitions, it doesn't apply to us at all!
What's left to Catskillian bigots ordered to deny us? Out and out breaking the law and that is exactly what Catskill opted to do, break the law. In open defiance of the second highest court in New York, they denied our exemption without giving a single reason at the BOAR even though I carefully spelled out that legally they were out of options here. Ok, we saw that one coming but the next move beyond belief. We were cited for a code violation and ordered to appear next week in town court in front of the town judge to the charges. We had responded to the last threat in writing spelling out how the code we were charged with violating does not apply and why complete with legal citations and even a link to an article by the Counsel General of the State of New York. We once again invoked our 4'th Amendment rights and our additional rights under RLUIPA. Mind you charging us is illegal and an actual violation of our civil rights. In the very first letter in the exchange I explained that their only legal action was to get a warrant after meeting an extremely high burden of proof to do so. We twice offered a compromise that was ignored both times.
Deprivation of Civil Rights Under Color of Law is a federal felony and the code nazi violated that law.
This town trial should be most interesting indeed. Stay tuned.