Strayhorn reverses herself on church’s tax status

AUSTIN – Reversing an earlier decision, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said Monday that a Unitarian church in Denison on the Texas-Oklahoma border will get tax-exempt status.

The decision came after the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported May 18 that the comptroller’s office had ruled that the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church was not a religious organization for tax purposes.

The status was denied, the state said, because the church “does not have one system of belief.”

Stunned church officials said it was the first time in U.S. history that any state had denied tax-exempt status to the Unitarians because of their religious philosophy. Father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams are among past adherents of the Unitarian church.

Jesse Ancira, the comptroller’s general counsel, sent a letter Monday to Dan Althoff, board president of the Denison church, informing him of the change.

“Comptroller Strayhorn asked that I review the file on your congregation’s application for tax exemption,” Ancira wrote. “After reviewing the submitted application … it is my opinion that the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church is an organization created for religious purposes and should be granted the requested tax exemption.”

Althoff and other members of the church could not be reached to comment Monday.

Strayhorn’s spokesman Mark Sanders said Strayhorn directed her staff to review the decision after questions were raised.

“She asked her general counsel to look into the matter, and he overruled earlier staff decisions,” Sanders said.

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