Judge: Town's treatment of pagans may be discrimination
2/27/11 - 1:06 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:
|Doc's Draft Peach Hard Apple Cider|
|Complimentary Tasting at Roxbury Wine and Spirits hosted by Kymar Farm Distillery!|
|New items arriving daily.|
|Style....The music of your home.|
|A Safe and Happy July 4th|
|Argentinian vernacular Mass by Ariel Ramirez, Misa Criolla|
|Rossini's Barber of Seville - Saturday, August 2|
|SEVEN FAVORITE MALADIES OF LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN|
|August 2, 2014: Workshop of Clarimonde|
|Two New Arrivals at the Blue Barn|
|From the Blue Barn Baby collection|
|Lyon Mountain Blue Barn loves Old and Original Signs|
|Happy 4th of July|
|Enjoy the 4th of July Weekend|
|Ready To Pipe Marmalade-In-A-Bag|
|New Mini-Hors d’Oeuvres & Dessert Molds for All Your Summer Parties!|
|Customer Appreciation Sale!|
|Product Protection Plans are now available at The Catalog Outlet!|
|Farmers' Market of the Week: Rock Hill|
|Farmers' Market of the Week: Walton Farmers' Market|
|Farmers' Market of the Week: Sidney Farmers' Market|
|NEW: Big Sky Pond, 5 BR cedar shingled home with swimming pond, tennis court on 60+ acres. Available for vacation renting.|
|O&W Presentation in Delhi|
|Civil War Reenactment at the Delaware County Historical Association|
|Margaretville Health Foundation 2014 Golf Tournament...August 24th|
|2nd Annual Golf Tournament to Benefit Margaretville Hospital and Mountainside Residential Care Center|
|Safe and Happy Holiday|
|August at the Emerson|
|Celebrate at the Emerson this Weekend!|
|ZONDER KENNEDY AT CANS & CLAMS TOMORROW!|
|TRIVIA NITE EVERY THURSDAY AT THE ANDES HOTEL|
|We're hiring! Looking for a kitchen manager with enthusiasm and experience.|
|Thunder in the Valley Inter Tribal Pow-wow|
|Newer price: Highly Motivated seller offering this desirable Roxbury Run Townhouse|
|Southside Johnny Show Proceeds to Boost Local Ambulance Services|
|Tucked Away On A Very Quiet, Small & Well Maintained Country Road Sits...|
|Just One Look...|
|Fairs & Festivals of the Great Western Catskills!|
|Rural Genius Talk at Hanford Mills Museum|
|Independence Day Celebration at Hanford Mills Museum|