Posts Tagged With: Amsterdam Assessor Calvin Cline

 
 

Buddhists vs. City Hall


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Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi, Iris X. Ge, Elise Miao, Jennie Wong

Amsterdam’s World Peace and Health Organization along with the Guang Huang Mi Zong Organization met in NYS Supreme Court in Fonda this morning along with their Attorney James Melita to challenge a discriminatory property assessment from the City of Amsterdam’s previous administration. It seems the Thane administration, through City Assessor Calvin Cline, wielded their municipal power as a weapon against the local Buddhists by revoking the tax exempt status of their Temple parking lots and clergy residences.  No other religious organization had their tax exempt status revoked by the Assessor.

The current situation was not the first time that Assessor Cline tried revoking the Buddhist’s tax exempt status. It happened back in 2012 when Cline revoked the tax exempt status of two of their properties. In that case, Supreme Court Judge Joseph M. Sise issued a consent judgement restoring the tax exempt status and a declaratory judgement that Cline’s assessment was “unlawful, excessive and unequal”.

Under NYS Real Property Tax Law section 420a, property owned by religious organizations used for religious purposes is tax exempt. Section 462 states that in addition, property owned by religious corporations used for clergy residential purposes is also tax exempt.

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Attorney James Melita pictured left

After the discriminatory treatment received from former Mayor Ann Thane  and Assessor Calvin Cline, the Buddhists were delighted to hear that Mike Villa was elected Mayor this year. In fact Mayor Villa met with the Buddhists on two different occasions to discuss the situation along with Dr. Rao and Jerry Skrocki. Mayor Villa was also appalled at the treatment the Buddhists received and on July 26, 2016, through the Common Council, issued resolution #16/17-12 which states;

“RESOLVED, it is the official policy of the City of Amsterdam to comply with all laws, rules, regulations protecting against discrimination and all departments, offices, boards and commissions, officers, employees, representatives and agents of City government shall in the performance of their duties, comply with federal, state and local laws, rules, regulations and policies regarding discrimination of any kind related to race, color, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, and political orientation or affiliation.”

Unfortunately neither the Mayor or the Common Council can overrule a decision made by the City Assessor. The ONLY remedy aside from the Board of Assessment Review is to file an Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. That is exactly what the Buddhists have done and they have an excellent case with proof of discrimination. Because of the discrimination the Chinese Buddhists continue to receive, one of their own has just completed her first year of law school. Another became a registered voter in the City of Amsterdam and several others are undergoing the process of citizenship so they too can vote.

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We sat most of the morning waiting for Calvin Cline to withdraw the discriminatory assessments but he is a stubborn old mule who would not concede. The judicial trial was adjourned until November of this year, giving Cline a chance to reconsider and save the taxpayers from a costly judgement.  In a city that is trying to be welcoming to new people as well as new business, we must treat everyone fairly and equally under the law.

We can do better than this!

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Damage done today to the Statue of Liberty replica in the parking lot of Amsterdam’s Five World Buddha Temple

Categories: Amsterdam, Equality, Human Rights, Law, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , ,

Amsterdam Assessor Targets Buddhists


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Jennie Wong, spokesperson for the WPHO and US citizen

Friday, January 16th, 2015,  is National Religious Freedom Day. Every year on January 16, the President of the United States issues a proclamation that marks the anniversary of Religious Freedom in the United States.  The tradition commemorates the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom adopted by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. This statute on religious freedom eventually became part of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .”

The controversial establishment clause has been widely debated as used as political fodder since codification in 1791. Many US Supreme Court decisions were issued that further define its implementation. While the Supreme Court initially held that constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) did not apply to state governments, the Incorporation Doctrine of 1925 reversed that opinion and held that these amendments also apply to state and local governments.

The SCOTUS decisions all support the fact that government cannot promote one religion over another or prohibit the free exercise of ANY religion.

History and current events continue to show the mix of government and religion often promotes bigotry leading to violence. Governments in the United States are prohibited by law from adopting or supporting any official religion, in fact our citizens are not required to believe in any form of religion. Although a majority of Americans are White and identify as Christian, we are neither a White or Christian nation. The US Census and Gallup polls show increasing diversity in both our ethnic and religious makeup.

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In spite of this increasing diversity, religious intolerance is still alive and well in the City of Amsterdam, New York. This blogger has written many articles describing the difficulties the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization has endured locally. The Buddhists moved here from China several years ago to establish a community promoting peace and harmony while teaching a healing meditative practice, the Guang Huan Mi Zong Health Dharma. The locals didn’t quite know what to make of the WPHO, unfamiliar with their culture while questioning their religious faith. To help combat bigoted attitudes and improve health, the Buddhists began teaching both their meditative practice and Chinese culture through organized events held at both the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street and the Five Buddha Temple on East Main Street. The events are well attended by open-minded locals and were featured in this blog as well as local newspapers. The WPHO also donated video camera systems to the Amsterdam Police Department to help combat crime after several of their properties were vandalized.

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Buddhist Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

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WPHO donates video surveillance cameras to Amsterdam Police

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Goddess of Mercy Temple Buddha's Birthday May 2014

Goddess of Mercy Temple – Buddha’s Birthday May 2014

Goddess of Mercy Temple

Goddess of Mercy Temple

Five Buddha Temple

Five Buddha Temple

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Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

The Capital District Roman Catholic Diocese sold these former catholic churches, their rectory buildings and parking lots to the WPHO. This blogger lives across the street from the Goddess of Mercy Temple and it is great to see the property, once abandoned and stripped by the catholic church, restored to full function and occupied. It is also great to have the Buddhists as neighbors.

Both former catholic churches have been religious exempt from local taxation since their inception. This year, Amsterdam Assessor Calvin Cline, not a resident of Amsterdam or Montgomery County, decided to revoke the local tax exemption for the parking lots to both the Goddess of Mercy and Five Buddha Temples as well as clergy residences in Amsterdam. Representatives from the WPHO met with the assessor to correct this obvious oversight but Cline refused to give them any information or rationale as to why he initiated this action and refused to correct it. The Buddhist organizations owning the properties, Guang Huan Mi Zong, Inc and Western Supreme Buddha Temple, Inc are 501(3)(c) corporations, who file annual update statements. The Chinese Buddhists see this action as yet another form of harassment and discrimination on the part of the assessor and the City of Amsterdam who did not revoke the tax exempt status of any other religious or charitable organization this year.

This situation reeks of religious intolerance and bigotry.

In addition to filing an appeal with the Board of Assessment Review, which meets on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the WPHO will be filing a complaint with the NYS Division for Human Rights.

When will the City of Amsterdam stop using laws and regulations as weapons to discriminately target people?

I hope the members of the Amsterdam Board of Assessment Review, former Mayor Mario Villa, John P. Bowers, and Fran Fora do the right thing and restore these exemptions.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Equality, Human Rights, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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