Evangelist Jerry Falwell says his Old-Time Gospel Hour television ministry will pay delinquent real estate taxes on a shopping center it owns in Lynchburg, Va., even if a state court rules it doesn't have to.
City officials have sued the ministry to collect taxes and penalties--said to total nearly $300,000--on the center, which includes a bar, and Falwell's Liberty Baptist College, which is also located in Lynchburg. No real estate taxes have been paid on the property since 1979, but Falwell said in an interview that he is willing to pay at least some of the disputed taxes.
Should a local judge rule the space leased to businesses is exempt, "We'll then come back to the court and say we feel ethically that we want to pay whatever their fair real estate tax is," Falwell said.
He said that his position does not contradict that of his attorneys, who have argued in court that the buildings should be tax-exempt because the rental income is put to religious use.
The most valuable land and buildings involved in the dispute are leased by the Gospel Hour to the college. Other Gospel Hour-owned tracts in dispute are Falwell's $190,000 parsonage, vacant lots and several houses used as church offices, houses used by church and college employes and houses available for rent.