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State reconsiders church umbrella program

In 2005, the pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Garret County submitted notice to the Maryland Department of Education that the church was going to operate an umbrella program for homeschool families. The pastor included a copy of a card the church had received when the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation (MDAT) had recognized its tax-exempt status several years ago.

The department of education wrote back and told the pastor they would not list Victory Baptist as an umbrella sponsor because he had proved neither that the church was incorporated nor that it was recognized as tax-exempt by the MDAT.

Since the pastor was a member of Home School Legal Defense Association, he contacted our office for assistance. Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff then placed a conference call with the department of education's attorney and two other department representatives. He explained that many churches-including Victory Baptist-are not incorporated, but this does not mean they are not actually churches. He also explained that churches are generally recognized as exempt for federal tax purposes even if they have not received formal recognition. He followed up with a detailed letter to the Maryland Department of Education.

Several days later, the department's attorney called back and told Woodruff that Victory Baptist would be listed as an umbrella program sponsor. The attorney said the department of education would not require the church to incorporate and would accept the previously issued MDAT card as evidence of tax-exempt status.

by Scott A. Woodruff

* See "A plethora of forms."