How much Masonic Charity is enough?

This story comes from the Concord Monitor story – Make Masons prove they shouldn’t pay from February 10th.

New Hampshire Freemasonry wants some relief, tax relief, under the umbrella of being being a charitable organization. The question from the state – how much charity is enough to BE a charity?

The push comes from five state representatives including Concord Democrat Stephen Shurtleff, all Freemasons, want to exempt Masonic temples from property taxes. The Bill is sponsored by Rep Alfred Baldasaro, Rep Stephen Shurtleff, Rep Shawn Jasper, Rep Sherman Packard and Rep Kenneth Weyler.

The test comes from a state Supreme Court ruling on a similar request from the Home Care Association of New Hampshire which sought an exemption from Concord property taxes too. In the ruling Associate Justice Gary Hicks wrote:

“charitable mission must be its dominant or primary purpose; if the dominant or primary purpose of its work is to its members or a limited class of persons, the organization will not meet this requirement, even if the public will derive an incidental benefit from such work.”

The language of the New Hampshire House Bill 396 would add the same exemption to Grange Halls too and reads:

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eleven

AN ACT exempting the land and buildings of Masonic temples or building associations from property taxation.

Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:

1 Property Tax Exemption; Annual List. Amend RSA 72:23-c, I to read as follows:

I. Every religious, educational, and charitable organization, Grange, Masonic temple or building association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the American National Red Cross, and any other national veterans association shall annually, on or before April 15, file a list of all real estate and personal property owned by them on which exemption from taxation is claimed, upon a form prescribed and provided by the board of tax and land appeals, with the selectmen or assessors of the place where such real estate and personal property are taxable. If any such organization or corporation shall willfully neglect or refuse to file such list upon request therefor, the selectmen may deny the exemption. If any organization, otherwise qualified to receive an exemption, shall satisfy the selectmen or assessors that they were prevented by accident, mistake, or misfortune from filing an application on or before April 15, the officials may receive the application at a later date and grant an exemption thereunder for that year; but no such application shall be received or exemption granted after the local tax rate has been approved for that year.

2 Granges; Masonic Temples or Building Associations Added. Amend RSA 72:23-h to read as follows:

72:23-h Granges and Masonic Temples or Building Associations. The real estate and personal property owned by Granges or by Masonic temples or building associations which are incorporated in this state shall be exempt from property taxes. If such property is rented for business purposes, the real estate shall not be exempt.

3 Effective Date. This act shall take effect April 1, 2011.

The Bill is presently in the New Hampshire House Municipal and County Government Committee.

On the surface, the change puts Masonic Lodges in good company with the VFW, American Legion, and the Red Cross but as the Concord Monitor reports, unlike these similar organizations New Hampshire Masonry does not implicitly include charity as its reason for being rather it is a by product of its teachings – Not a charity but an organization that teaches Charitable ideas.  If memory serves, the Grange is a similar institution, a meeting hall social development organization for the farming community, but non religious, and not entirely charitable conscious.

When queried in an earlier article on the subject, Masons seek tax-exempt status, the Bill Sponsors said of seeking the tax exemption status:

“We represent what is hopefully the best of mankind,…We’re trying to teach how to better men. We refer to God, but we speak of God as the supreme being.”

“The Masons do a lot for charity,” said Shurtleff, a member of the Penacook chapter and a Freemason for more than 25 years. “I can see if a lodge rented out to another agency and generated money from it, it should be taxable. But if money comes only from membership and it works as a charitable entity, I don’t see why it’s not tax-exempt like other organizations.”

The savings in property tax, for one lodge at least would be close to $8,411.

Inherently, I think its a great idea to proclaim lodges and Temple associations as a charity, but with the mandate that there be some proscribed measure of charitable activity like the Red Cross or the VFW or some other activity that benefits society more so than just making charitably conscious members.  Occasional donations and scholarships are a stretch to being an institutional charity – but their a good start.  Like the Red Cross or the VFW create mission of Relief, one of the three principal tenets of Masonry.  And, in the end, that may be what the Bill sponsors are intending to do.

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Masons seek tax-exempt status

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About Greg Stewart

An artist by nature and vocation, Greg pursued the sublime degrees of Freemasonry in 1994. A 3rd degree Master and a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, Greg is the author of the ebook What is Freemasonry and the print book Masonic Traveler.

Read more about Greg Stewart.

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