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Masonic Temple Ass'n v. Dept. of Revenue

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 25, 1982.

COOK COUNTY MASONIC TEMPLE ASSOCIATION ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EARL ARKISS, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Cook County Masonic Temple Association, is an unincorporated association that acts as the representative of all the individual Masonic Temple organizations in Cook County. The other 33 plaintiffs are the individual Masonic Temple organizations that are members of the Cook County Masonic Temple Association. These 33 plaintiffs each own the sites on which their respective temples are built.

The issue in this case is whether the properties with the temples on them were used for charitable purposes and were therefore exempt from real estate taxation in 1978 under the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 500.7). Defendant, the Department of Revenue, determined that the properties were not exempt. On review under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.), the circuit court of Cook County reversed the Department's finding and held that the properties were exempt. The Department has appealed to this court.

We affirm.

BACKGROUND

The corporate charter of each Masonic Temple organization states that the primary purpose of the organization is to promote and conduct charitable, educational, and religious activities. The Masonic Temple Association maintains several charitable organizations in Illinois, among which are the Illinois Masonic Home for the Aged, the Illinois Masonic Medical Center, the Illinois Masonic Children's Home, and the Illinois Masonic Nurses Training Scholarship Foundation. The exempt status of the properties on which the Masons provide their charitable services, such as the Home for the Aged or the Children's Home, is not in question here. It is undisputed that the Masons raise and spend millions of dollars each year to operate their charitable organizations.

Each temple is used for the periodic meetings of the individual organization that owns it. One important purpose of these meetings is to foster the high ideals and morals of Masonry. The first and last parts of these meetings are rituals having a religious tone. The meetings are often used to admit new members who have completed the three required stages of study in Masonry principles. Potential members are often tested to determine whether they have completed the studies for each stage leading to membership.

The most important business of each temple, discussed at each meeting, is the raising of money for charitable activities. The Masons not only support their own established charitable organizations but also respond to one-time requests for charitable contributions from other local, State, or national organizations.

Donations to support the Masons' charitable activities are often solicited at both official meetings and social functions held at the temples. The Masons have no other program, such as mail solicitation, to raise funds; 90 to 95% of the money which supports the Masons' charities is raised at the meetings and social functions in the temples.

Besides using the temples for meetings and fund raising, Masons also use the temples for educational activities involving the children of members. When not using it for Mason business, each organization allows civic and religious organizations to use its temple, usually without charge. None of the temples makes a profit, and no profit-seeking organization is allowed to use the temples.

Each member of a temple organization is assessed $15 to $20 a year in dues, one dollar of which is turned over to Grand Lodge Charity Fund, the statewide charity fund of the Masons; the rest is used to pay for the utilities and maintenance and, until the year at issue in this case, the real estate tax bills of the temple. Individual members are not expressly required to donate additional funds for charity, though they usually do so. Social functions at the temples are not specifically restricted to fundraising events, but this is usually done also, since the chartered purpose of the organizations is to support charitable activities.

Besides these activities, at the time this case was heard each temple was occasionally used as a center for blood donations, part of a new nationwide Masonic program. At the time of the hearing, only Masons and their immediate families were covered by the blood donations; however, the Masons' goal is to expand the program so that every person in the country can be covered.

Based on the foregoing undisputed facts, the Department of Revenue determined that the temple properties were not exempt from real estate taxes. The circuit court of Cook County reversed ...


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