December 2009 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Local officials in Washington, D.C., have announced that a Capitol Hill house owned by a controversial Religious Right group no longer qualifies for a tax exemption as a church.

The structure, owned by a clandestine evangelical Christian organization known as “The Family,” was in the news over the summer after some politicians tied to it got caught up in embarrassing sex scandals. (See “Behind the Green Door,” September 2009 Church & State.)

U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), at the time a resident of the house at 133 C St., S.E., admitted that he had had an inappropriate relationship with the wife of an aide. Not long after that, 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.

Reports then 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 in the house.

D.C. officials had considered the residence a church for many years and granted it tax exemption. In light of all the media attention, they took a second look. Since the property, which is valued at $1.8 million, is being used primarily as a boarding house for members of Congress, most of it is liable for taxes. The tax bill for 2010 will be $10,234.

“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 Family uses the building as part of its outreach to national political leaders and some religious activity, such as Bible study, does go on there.

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.

At any given time, seven or so members of the House of Representatives and Senate live there.