Larson v. Valente

PETITIONER: John R. Larson, et al.
RESPONDENT: Pamela Valente, et al.
LOCATION: Minnesota State Capitol Building

DOCKET NO.: 80-1666
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 456 US 228 (1982)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1981
DECIDED: Apr 21, 1982
GRANTED: Jun 01, 1981

Barry A. Fisher - on behalf of the Appellees
Larry Salustro - on behalf of the Appellants

Facts of the case

In 1961, Minnesota passed the Minnesota Charitable Solicitation Act, which established a system of registering charitable organizations that solicit money. All organizations subject to the Act must file extensive annual reports with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The Department may deny or withdraw the registration of any organization that engages in fraudulent, deceptive, or dishonest practices. From 1961 until 1978, all religious organizations were exempt from the Act. In 1978, the state legislature amended the Act to include religious organizations that received more than fifty percent of their funding from solicitations of nonmembers.

Shortly after the amendment, the Department notified the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (Unification Church) that it must register under the Act. Pamela Valente and other members of the Church responded by suing and alleging that the Act violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The United States Magistrate granted a preliminary injunction and held that the Act failed the second part of the Lemon Test, that the primary effect of a law must neither advance nor inhibit religion. Accepting the recommendation of the Magistrate, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court of Appeals affirmed that the fifty percent rule violated the Establishment Clause, but held that proof of status as a religious organization was required to be exempt from the Act.


Does the Minnesota Charitable Solicitation Act, which imposes registration and reporting requirements on religious organizations that solicit more than fifty percent of their funds from nonmembers, violate the Establishment Clause?

Media for Larson v. Valente

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1981 in Larson v. Valente

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Larson against Valente.

Mr. Salustro, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Larry Salustro:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case involves the narrow issue of the constitutionality under the establishment clause of an exemption provision in Minnesota's Charitable Solicitation Act.

The provision in question exempts from the financial disclosure requirements otherwise applicable to charitable organizations in the Act those religious organizations and societies which solicit more than half of their contributions from their members and from their affiliates.

The appeal presents the question whether the establishment clause prohibits a state from tailoring a regulatory program to allow coverage of some religious organizations where the application of the law to religious organizations is based on criteria unrelated to matters of religious belief or dogma.

Plaintiffs in this case are the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, Incorporated, and four of its members.

Defendants are the two state officials in the state of Minnesota responsible for enforcing the provisions of Minnesota's Charitable Solicitation Act.

I will discuss the provisions declared unconstitutional, the procedural history of the establishment clause issue in the court below, and why this Court should reverse the decision of the court of appeals.

Where are the provisions set out completely?

Larry Salustro:

The provisions of the--

Minnesota law.

Larry Salustro:

--Minnesota law are set out completely in the jurisdictional statement.

Not just the provision that you are talking about.

Larry Salustro:

Provision of the entire Charitable Solicitation law set out as an appendix to the jurisdictional statement.

Thank you.

Larry Salustro:

Through financial disclosure, the state of Minnesota seeks to inform charitable contributors of the organizations that are soliciting contributions from them.

The state seeks to protect contributors from fraud and from misrepresentation by those organizations as to the identity of the organization, the purpose of the organization, and the use to which funds are put by that organization.

Through a series of six exemptions, Minnesota has determined that disclosure is not always necessary to effectuate the state's objectives.

One of these six exemptions is the exemption for religious organizations and societies that solicit more than half of their contributions from their members and affiliates, and the narrow issue here is the application of the establishment clause to that provision.

The procedural history here--

Mr. Salustro, what is the rationale for treating religious organizations differently from patriotic and fraternal ones?

Larry Salustro:

--The criteria used in religious organizations and in fraternal and patriotic organizations, the criteria for exemption is the same, namely, the extent to which they solicit contributions from the general public.

The only difference is that the point of the... the point on the line where the exemption is drawn is different for those organizations.

This has the result of exempting more religious organizations than fraternal and patriotic organizations, so to that extent it is a more--

You think it exempts more religious organizations?

Larry Salustro:

--Yes, unquestionably.

It exempts more religious organizations.

Is that a fact?

Larry Salustro:

It's not a fact, but I think it is a mathematical certainty, because the fraternal and patriotic organizations that raise any of their money from the general public outside their membership lose their exemption.

The religious organizations can raise up to 50 percent of the money from... up to 50 percent of the money from the general public and not lose the exemption, so it is a more beneficial, a more hands-off treatment of religious organizations as a class than fraternal and patriotic organizations as a class, although the criteria used is exactly the same.