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Law School Case Brief

Walz v. Tax Com. of N.Y. - 397 U.S. 664, 90 S. Ct. 1409 (1970)

Rule:

The grant of a tax exemption is not sponsorship since the government does not transfer part of its revenue to churches but simply abstains from demanding that the church support the state. There is no genuine nexus between tax exemption and establishment of religion. The exemption creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state and far less than taxation of churches. It restricts the fiscal relationship between church and state, and tends to complement and reinforce the desired separation insulating each from the other.

Facts:

Plaintiff Frederick Walz, a property owner, brought suit in the New York Supreme Court, Special Term, seeking to enjoin defendant New York City Tax Commission from granting property tax exemptions to religious organizations for religious properties used solely for religious worship. Such exemptions were authorized by state constitutional and statutory provisions, but Walz argued that the exemptions indirectly required the taxpayer, such as himself, to make a contribution to religious bodies, and thereby, violated the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Rejecting this contention, the trial court granted the defendant Tax Commission's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint. The Appellate Court affirmed.

Issue:

Did the grant of tax exemptions to religious organizations violate the religion clauses of the First Amendment?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court held that the granting of tax exemptions to religious organizations did not violate the religion clauses of the First Amendment, since exemptions were granted to all houses of religious worship within a broad class of property owned by nonprofit, quasi-public corporations which included hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, and scientific, professional, historical, and patriotic groups, and the legislative purpose was thus not aimed at establishing, sponsoring, or supporting religion. Moreover, the exemptions for religious organizations created only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state, and far less of an involvement than would be created by taxation of churches, and the effect of the exemptions was thus not an excessive government entanglement with religion.

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