1983 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the right to deny tax breaks to schools that racially discriminate.


U.S. Supreme Court

Bob Jones Univ. v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983)

Bob Jones University v. United States

No. 81-3

Argued October 12, 1982

Decided May 24, 1983*

461 U.S. 574

Syllabus

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (IRC) provides that “[c]orporations . . . organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable . . . or educational purposes” are entitled to tax exemption. Until 1970, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) granted tax-exempt status under § 501(c)(3) to private schools, independent of racial admissions policies, and granted charitable deductions for contributions to such schools under § 170 of the IRC. But in 1970, the IRS concluded that it could no longer justify allowing tax-exempt status under § 501(c)(3) to private schools that practiced racial discrimination, and in 1971 issued Revenue Ruling 71-447 providing that a private school not having a racially nondiscriminatory policy as to students is not “charitable” within the common law concepts reflected in §§ 170 and 501(c)(3). In No. 81-3, petitioner Bob Jones University, while permitting unmarried Negroes to enroll as students, denies admission to applicants engaged in an interracial marriage or known to advocate interracial marriage or dating. Because of this admissions policy, the IRS revoked the University’s tax-exempt status. After paying a portion of the federal unemployment taxes for a certain taxable year, the University filed a refund action in Federal District Court, and the Government counterclaimed for unpaid taxes for that and other taxable years. Holding that the IRS exceeded its powers in revoking the University’s tax-exempt status and violated the University’s rights under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, the District Court ordered the IRS to refund the taxes paid and rejected the counterclaim. The Court of Appeals reversed. In No. 81-1, petitioner Goldsboro Christian Schools maintains a racially discriminatory admissions policy based upon its interpretation of the Bible, accepting for the most part only Caucasian students. The IRS determined that Goldsboro was not an organization described in § 501(c)(3), and hence was required to pay federal social security and unemployment taxes. After paying a portion of such taxes for certain years, Goldsboro filed a refund suit in Federal District Court, and the IRS counterclaimed for unpaid taxes. The District Court entered summary judgment for

Page 461 U. S. 575

the IRS, rejecting Goldsboro’s claim to tax-exempt status under § 501(c) (3) and also its claim that the denial of such status violated the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Neither petitioner qualifies as a tax-exempt organization under § 501(c)(3). Pp. 461 U. S. 585-605.

Source: supreme.justia.com