Jimmy Swaggart Ministries v. Board of Equalization of California

PETITIONER: Jimmy Swaggart Ministries
RESPONDENT: Board of Equalization of California
LOCATION: Jimmy Swaggart Ministries

DOCKET NO.: 88-1374
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 493 US 378 (1990)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 1989
DECIDED: Jan 17, 1990

ADVOCATES:
Michael W. McConnell - Argued the cause for the appellant
Richard E. Nielsen - Argued the cause for the appellee

Facts of the case

California law required retailers to pay a 6 percent sales tax on in-state sales of tangible personal property and residents to pay a 6 percent use tax on such property if purchased out of state. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, incorporated in Louisiana, sold religious materials to California residents through several direct and mail-order "evangelistic crusades." After auditing his ministry, the California Board of Equalization ("Board") told Swaggart that under California law he had to register his ministry as a seller so the Board could collect the appropriate sales and use taxes. After paying the taxes, Swaggart petitioned the Board for a refund. When his petition was rejected, Swaggart challenged the Board in state court. Following two unfavorable rulings below, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Swaggart's petition for certiorari.

Question

Did California's imposition of a sales and use tax on the sale of religious materials violate the Free Exercise or Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment?

Media for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries v. Board of Equalization of California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 1989 in Jimmy Swaggart Ministries v. Board of Equalization of California

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 17, 1990 in Jimmy Swaggart Ministries v. Board of Equalization of California

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 88-1374, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries versus Board of Equalization of California will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to the court on appeal from the Court of Appeals of California.

In an opinion filed today, we hold that California’s imposition of sales and use tax liability on a religious organization’s sale of religious materials does not contravene the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

The collection on payment of a generally applicable sales and use tax does not violate the Free Exercise Clause because such a tax imposes no constitutionally significant burden on an adherence religious practices or beliefs.

Neither does such a tax violate the Establishment Clause because a state does not foster excessive entanglement with religion simply by imposing these generally applicable administrative and record-keeping duties on religious organizations.

Because the issue is not decided below, we do not reach the claims that imposition of the tax on certain mail order sales violates the Commerce and Due Process Clauses.

The judgment of the California Court of Appeal is affirmed and the decision of this Court is unanimous.