Acton Institute Prevails in Property Tax Dispute with City of Grand Rapids


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (March 15, 2016) – A two-year dispute between the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and the City of Grand Rapids over the non-profit’s exempt status under state property tax law is over, with Acton emerging the victor.

In 2014, the City rejected Acton’s request for a tax exemption on its building, parking areas and personal property at 98 E. Fulton. Acton purchased the property in 2012 and spent much of the next year renovating the property. An appeal before the City’s 2014 Board of Review was denied, leading Acton to bring its case before the Michigan Tax Tribunal in Lansing. On March 8, Presiding Judge Preeti P. Gadola granted a Consent Judgment between Acton and the City, bringing two years of litigation to a close.

Since filing its appeal in 2014, Acton has paid more than $205,000 in property taxes, which the City must now refund, with interest.  Acton will be exempted from these taxes going forward.

“We were confident from the outset that Acton would prevail on the merits, and we did,” said Acton’s Executive Director Kris Mauren. “Thanks to the legal acumen and positive teamwork between Deb Ondersma and Adam Brody of the Varnum law firm and Acton’s in-house counsel Ann Bradley, we were able to fight the good fight against the city, and we came out on top.”

Particularly disappointing to Acton were  briefs submitted by the City during this process that made factually inaccurate assertions and used incendiary, highly-politicized language more suitable to a partisan political blog than a court of law.

In one court document the City of Grand Rapids called Acton a “politically driven think tank that publishes right-wing libertarian, philosophical, and political propaganda tempered with extreme right-wing viewpoints.”  The city’s willingness to attack a faith-based, charitable and educational institution openly on the basis of alleged "right-wing" viewpoints was both surprising and alarming.

In its own filings with the Tax Tribunal, Acton remained civil in tone and simply stuck to the case law, presented detailed and sworn affidavits, and emphasized Acton's faith-based charitable and educational mission and activities.  Acton also confirmed that the Institute does not lobby or endorse political candidates. 

Perhaps the most disturbing misrepresentation made by Grand Rapids in its court filings was that Acton was “ironically and hypocritically … anti-charity."  In fact, Acton has always been a strong advocate of private charity, as any cursory examination of its publications or website would show.

Two recent Acton releases, the video series “PovertyCure” and the documentary “Poverty, Inc.”, examine the economic harm and demoralization that can result when charities, non-governmental organizations other aid professionals institutionalize aid in the developing world. “PovertyCure” and “Poverty, Inc.” have reached a vast audience. The documentary, winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award, has been honored in over 40 international film festivals including a "Best of Fests" selection in IDFA Amsterdam - the biggest documentary festival in the world. The film has been screened in more than 100 universities, 140 cities, and 16 countries.

The filmmaker Michael Moore, who included a screening of “Poverty, Inc.” at his Traverse City film festival last summer, noted that after viewing the documentary, “You’ll never look at poverty and the Third World the same again.”

“Poverty, Inc.” debuted in Grand Rapids on Feb. 29 at the Celebration! Cinema Grand Rapids North, to a sold-out crowd of over 500 people.

Acton Institute is a tax-exempt organization under section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code. For more on the Acton Institute, please visit www.acton.org.

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About the Acton Institute
With its commitment to pursue a society that is free and virtuous, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a leading voice in the national environmental and social policy debate. The Acton Institute is uniquely positioned to comment on the sound economic and moral foundations necessary to sustain humane environmental and social policies.

The Acton Institute is a nonprofit, ecumenical think tank located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Institute works internationally to "promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles." For more on the Acton Institute, please visit www.acton.org.

Interviews with Institute staff may be arranged by contacting John Couretas at (616) 454-3080 or at jcouretas@acton.org.