Judge: Town's treatment of pagans may be discrimination
2/27/11 - 12:06 pm
A judge has found that a group of self-described witches may have gotten special treatment from the town of Catskill – and not in a good way.
In a strongly-worded decision issued on Tuesday, Judge George J. Pulver, Jr. of the Greene County Supreme Court ruled that the town's denial of a property tax exemption for the Maetreum of Cybele smacks of discrimination.
“Consistent with [the Matreum's] claim that it is being discriminated against, respondents' counsel attempts to hold petitioner to a higher standard than other religious organizations,” Pulver wrote in the decision, a copy of which was obtained by the Watershed Post.
Denying the town's request that he dismiss the case, Pulver wrote that Catskill, through its attorney, made “vague” and “subjective” arguments about the religious practices of the Maetreum in an attempt to justify its decision.
Pulver also ordered Greene County to refrain from foreclosing on the Maetreum's Palenville property until the completion of the lawsuit. The county, which contends that the Maetreum owes $13,835 in unpaid property taxes, sent the group a warning letter about foreclosure last month.
The decision is the biggest victory for the pagans in their years-long battle with Catskill over whether or not they are exempt from property taxes as a religious group.
In 2007, the town's lawyer, Daniel G. Vincelette, advised the town not to grant the group a tax exemption for the Palenville property, which the Maetreum uses as a convent to house several priestesses. Ever since, despite the Maetreum's protests and its status as religious group under state and federal law, Catskill has stuck to its decision. In 2009, the Maetreum filed this lawsuit in the state Supreme Court accusing the town of religious discrimination.
In his most recent argument to the Supreme Court, Vincelette wrote that because religious activity at the Maetreum was limited to “occasional events,” the use of the property was not religious.
Pulver's decision demolished that reasoning.
Vincelette attempted to “strip [the Maetreum] of its religious status … without bothering to set forth any personal expertise or objective basis for his conclusion,” the judge wrote.
The argument that religious events at the Maetreum are too infrequent “has no basis,” he wrote, and is a “subjective standard” that “is so vague that it would wreak havoc if it were generally applied to religious organizations in Greene County.”
The argument seems to be tailor-made to fit the Maetreum, Pulver wrote.
“That [Vincelette's] standards are directed at [the Maetreum] alone and will never be applied to other churches and charitable organizations seems inescapable."
Pulver also criticized Vincelette for mischaracterizing evidence against the Maetreum, including the affidavit of a disaffected ex-resident, which the judge called “misleading.” (That same ex-resident, Pulver noted, allegedly threatened to cut the throat of another resident.)
Although the 14-page decision slams the town of Catskill, the ruling is not an outright victory for the Maetreum. Pulver declined to order the town to grant the Maetreum a tax exemption, writing that the Maetreum had not proven that it deserved one.
2/28/11 Update: This story has been corrected. I initially wrote in several places that Judge Pulver had ordered the case to go to trial, when in fact the issue will remain before him and not go to a jury. (See comments below.) My apologies for the error.
3/2/11 Update: Read the full decision below:
|Stay at Spillian this December!|
|Spillian on a Plate on Hiatus, Returning Later This Winter.|
|Holiday Weekend Shopping at Tay Tea|
|Get Prepped for Thanksgiving at Tay Tea!|
|What's Better Than Sex?|
|Holiday Wedding Special!|
|Still Time For Senior Portraits!|
|PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR HEART IS. EMERSON SUPPORTS #SHOPLOCAL AND SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY ON NOVEMBER 28th|
|Black Friday Shines Bright at the Emerson with Festive Family Fun|
|Happy Thanksgiving Catskills|
|Happy Veterans Day|
|Administrative Coordinator Position Open|
|Wednesday Night’s Show: Catskill Critter Quiz|
|Tonight’s Show: Meet Ray Derman – Youth in Conservation|
|Wednesday Night’s Show: Challenging The North American Model for Wildlife Conservation|
|Andes Hotel looking for servers.|
|Great three course Thanksgiving Dinner at the Andes Hotel!|
|Live music by Crane & McCoy next Friday at the Andes Hotel!|
|BUY ONE NIGHT GET ONE NIGHT FREE AT THE ANDES HOTEL|
|A collaboration with local college students comes to life!|
|Support our Veterans- November 11th|
|Brewery Open Mic & Karaoke- EVERY Thursday|
|FREE Schoharie Beverage Trail tasting! Saturday, November 21, 1-4pm|
|Free tasting TODAY! 4-7pm|
|Free tasting Friday, November 13, 4-7pm|
|Volunteers Wanted For 2016 Festival in Fleischmanns|
|GRBA Holiday Party, Tuesday, December 8 at Public Lounge & Restaurant|
|Annual Community Food Pantry Promotion|
|DEEP WATER SCREENS AT OLIVE LIBRARY, SATURDAY NOVEMBER 21ST AT 10:30AM|
|RAILS TO THE CATSKILL SCREENS AT D&H CANAL HOUSE SATURDAY NOVEMBER 7TH|
|Wildlife Portraits: Hand-Colored Photographs by Naturalist Walt Meade - Slide Show & Gallery Talk|
|DCHA to Present Awards of Merit; Presentation to Focus on “Unknown Museums of Upstate NY”|
|Artists' Supplies at X-it|
|5 Solar Myths Busted|
|MUSIC MUSIC MELEE: WIOX ADMITS NO WRONG-DOING|
|Fresh Pork, Order Your Turkey, & Chef Rob on WAMC's "Food Friday"|
|Reserve your spot for "Eat Like A Pig" Supper Club, Fresh Lamb, Goat & Pork in the Cooler|
|Glimmerglass Film Days, November 5-9, Offers Compelling Mix of Receptions, Filmmaker Talks, and Award-Winning Films|