|Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York
[ Burger ]
[ Brennan ]
[ Harlan ]
[ Douglas ]
Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York
APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
Petitioner is the owner of real property in New York, and is a Christian. But he is not a member of any of the religious organizations, "rejecting them as hostile." The New York statute exempts from taxation real property "owned by a corporation or association organized exclusively for . . . religious . . . purposes" and used "exclusively for carrying out" such purposes. [n1] Yet nonbelievers who own realty are taxed at the usual rate. The question in the case therefore is whether believers -- organized in church groups -- can be made exempt from real estate taxes merely because they are believers, while nonbelievers, whether organized or not, must pay the real estate taxes.
My Brother HARLAN says he "would suppose" that the tax exemption extends to "groups whose avowed tenets may be anti-theological, atheistic, or agnostic." Ante at 697. If it does, then the line between believers and nonbelievers has not been drawn. But, with all respect, there is not even a suggestion in the present record that the statute covers property used exclusively by organizations for "anti-theological purposes," "atheistic purposes," or "agnostic purposes."
In Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, we held that [p701] a State could not bar an atheist from public office in light of the freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Neither the State nor the Federal Government, we said,
can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.
Id. at 495.
That principle should govern this case.
There is a line between what a State may do in encouraging "religious" activities, Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, and what a State may not do by using its resources to promote "religious" activities, 343 U.S. 306, and what a State may not do by using its resources to promote "religious" activities, McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, or bestowing benefits because of them. Yet that line may not always be clear. Closing public schools on Sunday is in the former category; subsidizing churches, in my view, is in the latter. Indeed, I would suppose that, in common understanding, one of the best ways to "establish" one or more religions is to subsidize them, which a tax exemption does. The State may not do that any more than it may prefer "those who believe in no religion over those who do believe." Zorach v. Clauson, supra, at 314.
In affirming this judgment, the Court largely overlooks the revolution initiated by the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. That revolution involved the imposition of new and far-reaching constitutional restraints on the States. Nationalization of many civil liberties has been the consequence of the Fourteenth Amendment, reversing the historic position that the foundations of those liberties rested largely in state law.
The process of the "selective incorporation" of various provisions of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment, although often provoking lively disagreement [p702] at large as well as among the members of this Court, has been a steady one. It started in 1897 with Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226, in which the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment precluded a State from taking private property for public use without payment of just compensation, as provided in the Fifth Amendment. The first direct holding as to the incorporation of the First Amendment into the Fourteenth occurred in 1931, in Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359, a case involving the right of free speech, although that holding in Stromberg had been foreshadowed in 1925 by the Court's opinion in Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652. As regards the religious guarantees of the First Amendment, the Free Exercise Clause was expressly deemed incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment in 1940 in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, although that holding had been foreshadowed in 1923 and 1934 by the Court's dicta in Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, and Hamilton v. Regents, 293 U.S. 245, 262. The Establishment Clause was not incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment until Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, was decided in 1947.
Those developments in the last 30 years have had unsettling effects. It was, for example, not until 1962 that state-sponsored, sectarian prayers were held to violate the Establishment Clause. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421. That decision brought many protests, for the habit of putting one sect's prayer in public schools had long been practiced. Yet if the Catholics, controlling one school board, could put their prayer into one group of public schools, the Mormons, Baptists, Moslems, Presbyterians, and others could do the same once they got control. And so the seeds of Establishment would grow, and a secular institution would be used to serve a sectarian end. [p703]
Engel was as disruptive of traditional state practices as was Stromberg. Prior to Stromberg, a State could arrest an unpopular person who made a rousing speech on the charge of disorderly conduct. Since Stromberg, that has been unconstitutional. And so the revolution occasioned by the Fourteenth Amendment has progressed as Article after Article in the Bill of Rights has been incorporated in it and made applicable to the States.
Hence, the question in the present case makes irrelevant the "two centuries of uninterrupted freedom from taxation," referred to by the Court. Ante at 678. If history be our guide, then tax exemption of church property in this country is indeed highly suspect, as it arose in the early days when the church was an agency of the state. See W. Torpey, Judicial Doctrines of Religious Rights in America 171 (1948). The question here, though, concerns the meaning of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause made applicable to the States for only a few decades, at best.
With all due respect, the governing principle is not controlled by Everson v. Board of Education, supra. Everson involved the use of public funds to bus children to parochial as well as to public schools. Parochial schools teach religion, yet they are also educational institutions offering courses competitive with public schools. They prepare students for the professions and for activities in all walks of life. Education in the secular sense was combined with religious indoctrination at the parochial schools involved in Everson. Even so, the Everson decision was five to four, and, though one of the five, I have since had grave doubts about it, because I have become convinced that grants to institutions teaching a sectarian creed violate the Establishment Clause. See Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 443-444 (Douglas, J., concurring). [p704]
This case, however, is quite different. Education is not involved. The financial support rendered here is to the church, the place of worship. A tax exemption is a subsidy. Is my Brother BRENNAN correct in saying that we would hold that state or federal grants to churches, say, to construct the edifice itself would be unconstitutional? What is the difference between that kind of subsidy and the present subsidy? [n2]
The problem takes us back where Madison was in 1784 and 1785, when he battled the Assessment Bill [n3] in Virginia. That bill levied a tax for the support of Christian churches, leaving to each taxpayer the choice as to "what society of Christians" he wanted the tax paid, and, absent such designation, the tax was to go for education. Even so, Madison was unrelenting in his opposition. As stated by Mr. Justice Rutledge:
The modified Assessment Bill passed second reading in December, 1784, and was all but enacted. [p705] Madison and his followers, however, maneuvered deferment of final consideration until November, 1785. And before the Assembly reconvened in the fall, he issued his historic Memorial and Remonstrance.
Everson v. Board of Education, supra, at 37 (dissenting opinion).
The Remonstrance covers some aspects of the present subsidy, including Madison's protest in paragraph 3 to a requirement that any person be compelled to contribute even "three pence" to support a church. All men, he maintained in paragraph 4, enter society "on equal conditions," including the right to free exercise of religion:
Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to men, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions.
Madison's assault on the Assessment Bill was, in fact, an assault based on both the concepts of "free exercise" and "establishment" of religion later embodied in the First Amendment. Madison, whom we recently called "the leading architect of the religion clauses of the First Amendment," Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 103, [p706] was indeed their author and chief promoter. [n6] As Mr. Justice Rutledge said:
All the great instruments of the Virginia struggle for religious liberty thus became warp and woof of our constitutional tradition, not simply by the course of history, but by the common unifying force of Madison's life, thought and sponsorship. He epitomized the whole of that tradition in the Amendment's compact, but nonetheless comprehensive, phrasing.
Everson v. Board of Education, supra, at 39.
The Court seeks to avoid this historic argument as to the meaning of "establishment" and "free exercise" by relying on the long practice of the States in granting the subsidies challenged here.
Certainly government may not lay a tax on either worshiping or preaching. In Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, we ruled on a state license tax levied on religious colporteurs as a condition to pursuit of their activities. In holding the tax unconstitutional, we said:
The power to tax the exercise of a privilege is the power to control or suppress its enjoyment. Magnano Co. v. Hamilton, 292 U.S. 40, 44-45, and cases cited. Those who can tax the exercise of this religious practice can make its exercise so costly as to deprive it of the resources necessary for its maintenance. Those who can tax the privilege of engaging in this form of missionary evangelism can close its doors to all those who do not have a full purse. Spreading religious beliefs in this ancient and honorable manner would thus be denied the needy. Those who can deprive religious groups of their colporteurs can take from them a part of [p707] the vital power of the press which has survived from the Reformation.
Id. at 112.
Churches, like newspapers also enjoying First Amendment rights, have no constitutional immunity from all taxes. As we said in Murdock:
We do not mean to say that religious groups and the press are free from all financial burdens of government. See Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 250. We have here something quite different, for example, from a tax on the income of one who engages in religious activities or a tax on property used or employed in connection with those activities. It is one thing to impose a tax on the income or property of a preacher. It is quite another thing to exact a tax from him for the privilege of delivering a sermon.
State aid to places of worship, whether, in the form of direct grants or tax exemption, takes us back to the Assessment Bill and the Remonstrance. The church qua church would not be entitled to that support from believers and from nonbelievers alike. Yet the church qua nonprofit charitable institution is one of many that receive a form of subsidy through tax exemption. To be sure, the New York statute [n7] does not single out the church for grant or favor. It includes churches in a long list of nonprofit organizations: for the moral or mental improvement of men and women (§ 420); for charitable, hospital, or educational purposes (ibid.); for playgrounds (ibid.); for scientific or literary objects (ibid.); for bar associations, medical societies, or libraries (ibid.); for patriotic and historical purposes (ibid.); for cemeteries (ibid.); for the enforcement of laws relating to children or animals (ibid.); for opera [p708] houses (§ 426); for fraternal organizations (§ 428); for academies of music (§ 434); for veterans' organizations (§ 452); for pharmaceutical societies (§ 472), and for dental societies (§ 474). While the beneficiaries cover a wide range, "atheistic," "agnostic," or "anti-theological" groups do not seem to be included.
Churches perform some functions that a State would constitutionally be empowered to perform. I refer to nonsectarian social welfare operations such as the care of orphaned children and the destitute and people who are sick. A tax exemption to agencies performing those functions would therefore be as constitutionally proper as the grant of direct subsidies to them. Under the First Amendment, a State may not, however, provide worship if private groups fail to do so. As Mr. Justice Jackson said:
[A State] may socialize utilities and economic enterprises and make taxpayers' business out of what conventionally had been private business. It may make public business of individual welfare, health, education, entertainment or security. But it cannot make public business of religious worship or instruction, or of attendance at religious institutions of any character. . . . That is a difference which the Constitution sets up between religion and almost every other subject matter of legislation, a difference which goes to the very root of religious freedom and which the Court is overlooking today.
Everson v. Board of Education, supra, at 26 (dissenting opinion).
That is a major difference between churches, on the one hand, and the rest of the nonprofit organizations, on the other. Government could provide or finance operas, hospitals, historical societies, and all the rest because they represent social welfare programs within [p709] the reach of the police power. In contrast, government may not provide or finance worship because of the Establishment Clause any more than it may single out "atheistic" or "agnostic" centers or groups and create or finance them.
Tax exemption, no matter what its form, is essentially a government grant or subsidy. Such grants would seem to be justified only if the purpose for which they are made is one for which the legislative body would be equally willing to make a direct appropriation from public funds equal to the amount of the exemption. This test would not be met except in the case where the exemption is granted to encourage certain activities of private interests which, if not thus performed, would have to be assumed by the government at an expenditure at least as great as the value of the exemption.
Since 1947, when the Establishment Clause was made applicable to the States, that report would have to state that the exemption would be justified only where "the legislative body could make" an appropriation for the cause.
On the record of this case, the church qua nonprofit, charitable organization is intertwined with the church qua church. A church may use the same facilities, resources, and personnel in carrying out both its secular and its sectarian activities. The two are unitary, and, on the present record, have not been separated one from [p710] the other. The state has a public policy of encouraging private public welfare organizations, which it desires to encourage through tax exemption. Why may it not do so and include churches qua welfare organizations on a nondiscriminatory basis? That avoids, it is argued, a discrimination against churches, and, in a real sense, maintains neutrality toward religion which the First Amendment was designed to foster. Welfare services, whether performed by churches or by nonreligious groups, may well serve the public welfare.
Whether a particular church seeking an exemption for its welfare work could constitutionally pass muster would depend on the special facts. The assumption is that the church is a purely private institution, promoting a sectarian cause. The creed, teaching, and beliefs of one may be undesirable or even repulsive to others. Its sectarian faith sets it apart from all others, and makes it difficult to equate its constituency with the general public. The extent that its facilities are open to all may only indicate the nature of its proselytism. Yet, though a church covers up its religious symbols in welfare work, its welfare activities may merely be a phase of sectarian activity. I have said enough to indicate the nature of this tax exemption problem.
Direct financial aid to churches or tax exemptions to the church qua church is not, in my view, even arguably permitted. Sectarian causes are certainly not anti-public, and many would rate their own church, or perhaps all churches, as the highest form of welfare. The difficulty is that sectarian causes must remain in the private domain, not subject to public control or subsidy. That seems to me to be the requirement of the Establishment Clause. As Edmond Cahn said:
In America, Madison submitted most astutely, the rights of conscience must be kept not only free, but equal, as well. And in view of the endless variations [p711] -- not only among the numerous sects but also among the organized activities they pursued and the relative emotional values they attached to their activities -- how could any species of government assistance be considered genuinely equal from sect to sect? If, for example, a state should attempt to subsidize all sectarian schools without discrimination, it would necessarily violate the principle of equality because certain sects felt impelled to conduct a large number of such schools, others few, others none. [n9] How could the officers of government begin to measure the intangible factors that a true equality of treatment would involve, i.e., the relative intensity of religious attachment to parochial education that the respective groups required of their lay and clerical members? It would be presumptuous even to inquire. Thus, just as, in matters of race, our belated recognition of intangible factors has finally led us to the maxim "separate, therefore unequal," so, in matters of religion, Madison's immediate recognition of intangible factors led us promptly to the maxim "equal, therefore separate." Equality was out of the question without total separation.
Confronting Injustice 186-187 (1967).
The exemptions provided here insofar as welfare projects are concerned may have the ring of neutrality. But subsidies, either through direct grant or tax exemption for sectarian causes, whether carried on by church qua church or by church qua welfare agency, must be treated differently lest we in time allow the church qua church to be on the public payroll, which, I fear, is imminent. [p712]
As stated by my Brother BRENNAN in Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 259 (concurring opinion),
It is not only the nonbeliever who fears the injection of sectarian doctrines and controversies into the civil polity, but, in as high degree, it is the devout believer who fears the secularization of a creed which becomes too deeply involved with and dependent upon the government.
Madison, as President, vetoed a bill incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, as being a violation of the Establishment Clause. He said, inter alia: [n10]
[T]he bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.
He also vetoed a bill that reserved a parcel of federal land "for the use" of the Baptist Church as violating the Establishment Clause. [n11]
What Madison would have thought of the present state subsidy to churches -- a tax exemption, as distinguished from an outright grant -- no one can say with certainty. The fact that Virginia early granted church tax exemptions cannot be credited to Madison. Certainly he seems to have been opposed. In his paper Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments, he wrote: [n12]
Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United [p713] States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.
And he referred, inter alia, to the "attempt in Kentucky for example, where it was proposed to exempt Houses of Worship from taxes." From these three statements, Madison, it seems, opposed all state subsidies to churches. Cf. D. Robertson, Should Churches Be Taxed? 661 (1968).
We should adhere to what we said in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. at 495, that neither a State nor the Federal Government
can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.
Unless we adhere to that principle, we do not give full support either to the Free Exercise Clause or to the Establishment Clause.
If a church can be exempted from paying real estate taxes, why may not it be made exempt from paying special assessments? The benefits in the two cases differ only in degree, and the burden on nonbelievers is likewise no different in kind. [n13] [p714]
The religiously used real estate of the churches today constitutes a vast domain. See M. Larson & C. Lowell, The Churches: Their Riches, Revenues, and Immunities (1969). Their assets total over $141 billion, and their annual income at least $22 billion. Id. at 232. And the extent to which they are feeding from the public trough in a variety of forms is alarming. Id., c. 10.
We are advised that, since 1968, at least five States have undertaken to give subsidies to parochial and other private schools [n14] -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. And it is reported that, under two federal Acts, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 27, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 1219, billions of dollars have been granted to parochial and other private schools.
The federal grants to elementary and secondary schools under 79 Stat. 27 were made to the States, which in turn made advances to elementary and secondary schools. Those figures are not available.
But the federal grants to private institutions of higher education are revealed in Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), Digest of Educational Statistics 16 (1969). These show in billions of dollars the following: [n15]
19666. . . . . . . . $1-4
1966-67. . . . . . . $1.6
1967-68. . . . . . . $1.7
1968-69. . . . . . . $1.9
1969-70. . . . . . . $2.1
It is an old, old problem. Madison adverted to it: [n16]
Are there not already examples in the U.S. of ecclesiastical wealth equally beyond its object and the foresight of those who laid the foundation of it? In the U.S., there is a double motive for fixing limits in this case, because wealth may increase not only from additional gifts, but from exorbitant advances in the value of the primitive one. In grants of vacant lands, and of lands in the vicinity of growing towns & cities, the increase of value is often such as, if foreseen, would essentially controul the liberality confirming them. The people of the U.S. owe their Independence & their liberty to the wisdom of descrying in the minute tax of 3 pence on tea the magnitude of the evil comprized in the precedent. Let them exert the same wisdom in watching agst every evil lurking under plausible disguises, and growing up from small beginnings. [n17] [p716]
If believers are entitled to public financial support, so are nonbelievers. A believer and nonbeliever under the present law are treated differently because of the articles of their faith. Believers are doubtless comforted that the cause of religion is being fostered by this legislation. Yet one of the mandates of the First Amendment is to promote a viable, pluralistic society and to keep government neutral, not only between sects, but also between believers and nonbelievers. The present involvement of government in religion may seem de minimis. But it is, I fear, a long step down the Establishment path. Perhaps I have been misinformed. But as I have read the Constitution and its philosophy, I gathered that independence was the price of liberty.
I conclude that this tax exemption is unconstitutional.APPENDIX I TO OPINION OF DOUGLAS, J., DISSENTING
Assessment Bill. The December 24, 1784, print reproduced in the Supplemental Appendix to the dissenting opinion of Rutledge, J., in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 72:
A BILL ESTABLISHING A PROVISION
FOR TEACHERS OF THE
Whereas the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; [p717] which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing such citizens, as from their circumstances and want of education, cannot otherwise attain such knowledge, and it is judged that such provision may be made by the Legislature, without counteracting the liberal principle heretofore adopted and intended to be preserved by abolishing all distinctions of preeminence amongst the different societies or communities of Christians;
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That for the support of Christian teachers, ___ percentum on the amount, or ___ in the pound on the sum payable for tax on the property within this Commonwealth, is hereby assessed, and shall be paid by every person chargeable with the said tax at the time the same shall become due, and the Sheriffs of the several Counties shall have power to levy and collect the same in the same manner and under the like restrictions and limitations, as are or may be prescribed by the laws for raising the Revenues of this State.
And be it enacted, That for every sum so paid, the Sheriff or Collector shall give a receipt, expressing therein to what society of Christians the person from whom he may receive the same shall direct the money to be paid, keeping a distinct account thereof in his books. The Sheriff of every County, shall, on or before the ___ day of ___ in every year, return to the Court, upon oath, two alphabetical lists of the payments to him made, distinguishing in columns opposite to the names of the persons who shall have paid the same, the society to which the money so paid was by them appropriated, and one column for the names where no appropriation shall be made. One of which lists, after being recorded in a book to be kept for that purpose, shall be filed by the Clerk in his office; the other shall by the Sheriff [p718] be fixed up in the Court-house, there to remain for the inspection of all concerned. And the Sheriff, after deducting five percentum for the collection, shall forthwith pay to such person or persons as shall be appointed to receive the same by the Vestry, Elders, or Directors, however denominated of each such society, the sum so stated to be due to that society; or in default thereof, upon the motion of such person or persons to the next or any succeeding Court, execution shall be awarded for the same against the Sheriff and his security, his and their executors or administrators; provided that ten days previous notice be given of such motion. And upon every such execution, the Officer serving the same shall proceed to immediate sale of the estate taken, and shall not accept of security for payment at the end of three months, nor to have the goods forthcoming at the day of sale; for his better direction wherein, the Clerk shall endorse upon every such execution that no security of any kind shall be taken.
And be it further enacted, That the money to be raised by virtue of this Act, shall be by the Vestries, Elders, or Directors of each religious society, appropriated to a provision for a Minister or Teacher of the Gospel of their denomination, or the providing places of divine worship, and to none other use whatsoever; except in the denominations of Quakers and Menonists, who may receive what is collected from their members, and place it in their general fund, to be disposed of in a manner which they shall think best calculated to promote their particular mode of worship.
And be it enacted, That all sums which at the time of payment to the Sheriff or Collector may not be appropriated by the person paying the same, shall be accounted for with the Court in manner as by this Act is directed, and after deducting for his collection, the Sheriff shall pay the amount thereof (upon account certified [p719] by the Court to the Auditors of Public Accounts, and by them to the Treasurer) into the public Treasury, to be disposed of under the direction of the General Assembly, for the encouragement of seminaries of learning within the Counties whence such sums shall arise, and to no other use or purpose whatsoever.
THIS Act shall commence, and be in force, from and after the ___ day of ___ in the year ___.
A Copy from the Engrossed Bill.JOHN BECKLEY, C.H.D.APPENDIX II TO OPINION OF DOUGLAS, J., DISSENTING [n18]
Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, as reproduced in the Appendix to the dissenting opinion of Rutledge, J., in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 63 (2 The Writings of James Madison 183-191 (G. Hunt ed.1901)):
We, the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled "A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion," and conceiving that the same, if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound, as faithful members of a free State, to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,
1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth "that Religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." The Religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every [p720] man, and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is, in its nature, an unalienable right. It is unalienable because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is unalienable also because what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe. And if a member of Civil Society who enters into any subordinate Association must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority, much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that, in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is that no other rule exists by which any question which may divide a Society can be ultimately determined but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.
2. Because, if religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the coordinate departments; more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free government requires not merely that the metes and bounds which separate each department [p721] of power may be invariably maintained, but, more especially, that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.
3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of [the] noblest characteristic of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
4. Because, the bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensable in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If "all men are by nature equally free and independent," all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an "equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates [p722] of conscience." Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man. To God, therefore, not to men, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle by granting to others peculiar exemptions. Are the Quakers and Menonists the only sects who think a compulsive support of their religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? Can their piety alone be intrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations to believe that they either covet preeminencies over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.
5. Because the bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious truth or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world, the second, an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
6. Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world; it is a contradiction to fact, for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only [p723] during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms, for a Religion not invented by human policy must have preexisted and been supported before it was established by human policy. It is, moreover, to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author, and to foster in those who still reject it a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive state in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks; many of them predict its downfall. On which side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?
8. Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within [the] cognizance of Civil Government, how can its legal establishment be said to be necessary to civil Government? What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments [p724] had on Civil Society? In some instances, they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances, they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure & perpetuate it, needs them not. Such a government will be best supported by protecting every citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property, by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.
9. Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the Bill of sudden degeneracy? Instead of holding forth an asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last, in the career of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven where liberty and philanthropy in their due extent may offer a more certain repose from his troubles.
10. Because it will have a like tendency to banish our Citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd a fresh motive to emigration, by revoking the liberty [p725] which they now enjoy would be the same species of folly which has dishonoured and depopulated flourishing kingdoms.
11. Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced amongst its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish Religious discord by proscribing all difference in Religious opinions. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If, with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bonds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed that "Christian forbearance, love and charity" which of late mutually prevailed into animosities and jealousies which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?
12. Because the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions, and how small is the former. Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of [revelation] from coming into the Region [p726] of it, and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of leveling as far as possible every obstacle to the victorious progress of truth, the Bill, with an ignoble and unchristian timidity, would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.
13. Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of Citizens tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? and what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority.
14. Because a measure of such singular magnitude and delicacy ought not to be imposed without the clearest evidence that it is called for by a majority of citizens, and no satisfactory method is yet proposed by which the voice of the majority in this case may be determined, or its influence secured. "The people of the respective counties are indeed requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of the Bill to the next Session of Assembly." But the representation must be made equal before the voice either of the Representatives or of the Counties will be that of the people. Our hope is that neither of the former will, after due consideration, espouse the dangerous principle of the Bill. Should the event disappoint us, it will still leave us in full confidence that a fair appeal to the latter will reverse the sentence against our liberties.
15. Because, finally, "the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience" is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot [p727] be less dear to us; if we consult the Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia as the "basis and foundation of Government," it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either, then, we must say, that the will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority, and that, in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights, or that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred. Either we must say that they may controul the freedom of the press, may abolish the trial by jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay, that they may despoil us of our very right to suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary assembly, or we must say that they have no authority to enact into law the Bill under consideration. We the subscribers say that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority. And, that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it this remonstrance, earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may, on the one hand, turn their councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative or violate the trust committed to them, and, on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his [blessing, may re]dound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity, and the Happiness of the Commonwealth.
1. N.Y.Real Prop.Tax Law § 420, subd. 1 (Supp. 1969-1970).
2. In the oral argument in McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, the following colloquy took place between MR. JUSTICE BLACK and counsel John L. Franklin:
MR. JUSTICE BLACK. Do I understand you to take the position that, if the State of Illinois wanted to contribute five million dollars a year to religion, they could do so, so long as they provided the same to every faith?
MR. FRANKLIN. Yes, and the State of Illinois does contribute five million dollars annually to religious faiths, equally, and more than five million dollars, and has during its entire history.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK. How does it do it?
MR. FRANKLIN. By tax exemptions specifically granted to religious organizations.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK. Your position is that they could grant five million dollars a year to religion, if they wanted to, out of the taxpayer's money, so long as they treated all faiths the same?
MR. FRANKLIN. Yes, Your Honor. That is our interpretation of the meaning of the first clause of the First Amendment.
J. O'Neill, Religion and Education under the Constitution 225 (1949).
3. See Appendix I to this dissent, post, p. 716.
4. See Appendix II to this dissent, post, p. 719.
5. See H. Eckenrode, Separation of Church and State in Virginia, c. V (1910).
6. Annals of Cong. 434, 729-1.
7. N. 1, supra.
8. The Brookings Institution, Report on a Survey of Administration in Iowa: The Revenue System 33 (1933).
9. This inequality, some argue, is pronounced when it comes to aid to parochial schools, now run mainly by the Catholic Church. See G. Cogdell, What Price Parochiaid? 670 (1970).
10. H.R. Misc. Doc. No. 210, pt. 1, 53d Cong., 2d Sess., 489-490.
11. Id. at 490
12. Fleet, Madison's "Detatched Memoranda," 3 Wm. & Mary Q. (3d ser.) 534, 551, 555 (1946).
13. See Zollmann, Tax Exemptions of American Church Property, 14 Mich.L.Rev. 646, 655-656 (1916).
The New York Supreme Court in In re Mayor of New York, 11 Johns. 77, 81, said:
As the church property is not, nor is likely soon to be, either appropriated to renting or exposed to sale, but is devoted exclusively to religious purposes, the benefit resulting to it, by the improvement of Nassau-street, must be small in comparison with that of other property, and it, therefore, ought not to contribute in the like proportion. It may be considered, possibly, as benefited by rendering the access to the churches more convenient, and the places more pleasant and salubrious by the freer circulation of the air. This may have some influence on the pew rents, and the ground may become permanently more valuable. These, however, appear to be small and remote benefits to property so circumstanced, and to charge the churches equally with adjoining private property is unreasonable and extravagant, and, on this point, the report ought to be sent back to the commissioner for revisal and correction.
14. U.S. News & World Report, May 4, 1970, p. 34.
15. These total include all types of federal aid -- physical plants, dormitory construction, laboratories, libraries, lunch programs, fellowships and scholarships, etc.
Of the total federal outlays for education, only two-fifths are for programs administered by the Office of Education; other parts of the Department of HEW account for one-fifth. The rest of the outlays are distributed among 24 federal departments and agencies, of which the largest shares are accounted for by the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Economic Opportunity. U.S. Bureau of the Budget, Special Analysis, Federal Education Program, 1971 Budget, Special Analysis I, pt. 2, p. 115 (Feb.1970).
16. Fleet, supra, n. 12, at 557-558.
17. In 1875, President Grant, in his State of the Union Message, referred to the vast amounts of untaxed church property:
In 1850, I believe, the church property of the United States which paid no tax, municipal or State, amounted to about $83,000,000. In 1860, the amount had doubled; in 1875, it is about $1,000,000,000. By 1900, without check, it is safe to say this property will reach a sum exceeding $3,000,000,000. So vast a sum, receiving all the protection and benefits of Government without bearing its proportion of the burdens and expenses of the same, will not be looked upon acquiescently by those who have to pay the taxes. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time, as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration, without constitutional authority and through blood.
I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation, exempting only the last resting place of the dead and possibly, with proper restrictions, church edifices.
9 Messages and Papers of the Presidents 4288-4289 (1897).
18. Footnote omitted.