Render Unto Caesar: District Tax Officials End Free Ride For Religious Right's 'C Street House'

From the outside, 133 C St., S.E., looks like a standard-issue Capitol Hill dwelling, not a church.

Remember all the talk last summer about the mysterious "C Street house" in Washington, D.C.?

The structure, owned by a clandestine evangelical Christian organization known as "The Family," was in the news because some politicians tied to it got caught up in embarrassing sex scandals.

A quick recap: After U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted that he had had an inappropriate relationship with the wife of an aide, several media outlets reported that Ensign, a resident of the house (who has since moved out) had been confronted about his behavior by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a current resident.

Then, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who had been a frequent visitor to the house during his tenure in Congress from 1994-2000, admitted to an adulterous relationship with a woman in Argentina.

But wait, there's more: Reports surfaced that the wife of former U.S. Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R-Miss.) filed an alienation-of-affection lawsuit against a woman she claims had an affair with Pickering during the time he lived at C Street. There were even reports that Pickering carried on with the other woman in the house.

Not surprisingly, reporters got interested in the C Street house and The Family, wondering why a structure owned by devout Christians was the site of so much naughtiness. Several stories pointed out that over the years, former attorneys general John Ashcroft and Edwin Meese, U.S. Sens. James Inhofe, Charles Grassley and Sam Brownback, several members of the House of Representatives and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have been affiliated with The Family.

I walked over to the house earlier this year while researching an article on The Family for Church & State. While I didn't see anything terribly strange going on, I did think it was curious that the house was considered tax exempt. From the outside, 133 C St., S.E., looks like a standard-issue Capitol Hill dwelling, not a church.

That's because it isn't a church. Although it is owned by a religious organization, the building serves as a residence for members of Congress – and in light of all of the hanky panky going on by some of its occupants, it's fair to say the place is more like a frat house than a house of worship.

At any given time, seven or so members of the House and Senate live there. They might meet for prayer and Bible study, but that hardly qualifies the place for tax exemption. In fact, the C Street structure is essentially a boarding house. Its owners should have been paying taxes all along.

Officials in the District of Columbia apparently agree. It was announced recently that the house, valued at $1.8 million, is now being taxed.

"The property in question was inspected by our office, and it was determined that portions are being rented to private individuals for residential purposes," a city official told The Washington Post. "As a result, the exemption was partially revoked and adjusted so that only 34 percent is now tax-exempt and 66 percent has become taxable."

The tax bill for 2010 will be $10,234. That's a nice chunk of change for the city. Like jurisdictions everywhere, D.C. is facing financial challenges and can use all of the money it can get.

I have no problem with the residents of the C Street house engaging in whatever religious activities they choose. But you don't get a tax exemption at home because you might pray or read a religious text, and neither should the owners of the C Street domicile. I'm glad the property is finally on the tax rolls.