RESPONDENT:Bob Bullock, Comptroller of Public Accounts of the State of Texas et al.
LOCATION:Texas State Comptroller
DOCKET NO.: 87-1245
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court
CITATION: 489 US 1 (1989)
ARGUED: Nov 01, 1988
DECIDED: Feb 21, 1989
Harriet D. Burke – Assistant Attorney General of Texas, argued the cause for appellees
Roger J. George, Jr. – argued the cause for the appellant
Roger James George, Jr. – on behalf of the appellant
Facts of the case
The state of Texas offered a tax exemption to religious publications during a 3-year period. Texas Monthly, Inc, a nonreligious publisher, claimed that this promoted religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Texas Monthly filed suit in a state court seeking to recover the taxes it had paid in 1985. The court ruled that the exemption violated the Establishment Clause by advancing religion and the Free Press Clause by discriminating based on the content of publications. Since the court did not have the authority to rewrite tax statutes, it instead invalidated taxes levied on nonreligious publications and ordered the state to refund Texas Monthly’s tax payments. A state appeals court reversed the decision.
Does a state violate the Establishment Clause and the Free Press Clause by exempting religious publications from paying taxes that all nonreligious publications must pay?
Media for Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 21, 1989 in Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in number 87-1245 Texas Monthly, Inc. versus Bullock will be announced by Justice Brennan.
William J. Brennan, Jr.:
Now this case is here from the Court of Appeals of Texas.
The question we have to decide is whether a Texas exemption of a religious periodical from Texas sales taxes promotes religion in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
From October 1984 until October 1987, a Texas “statute exempted from sales and use taxes periodicals published or distributed by a religious faith consisting holy writings promulgating the teachings of the faith and books consisting of holy writings sacred to a religious faith.”
In 1985, the appellant, a publisher of a general interest magazine that was not entitled to the exemption page sales taxes under protest and sued to recover those payments in State Court.
Ruling that the statutes exclusive exemption for religious periodicals promoted religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.
The State Court struck down the tax as applied to non-religious periodicals and ordered the state to refund the tax paid by appellant plus interest.
The State Court of Appeals reversed holding that the exemption satisfied the tripartite test of our decision in Lemon v. Curtsman and therefore did not violate the Establishment Clause.
Our judgment reverses the judgment of the Texas Court of Appeals and holds that the exemption does violate the Establishment Clause.
Our reversal is supported by three opinions, one by me joined by Justices Marshall and Stevens, another by Justice White, and the third by Justice Blackmun which is joined by Justice O’Connor.
Justice Scalia, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy, has filed a dissenting opinion.