Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York Page 2

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Media for Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1969 in Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York

Edward J. Ennis:

In the conference between the two Houses, in which Mr. Madison was a member of the conference, we extracted the words no law respecting an establishment of religion which the Congress adopted and the states adopted.

Now, this Court has said in Everson and in every case considered since Everson that the generalities of these words not only prohibit the establishment of a church, but they prohibit any aid to religion.

Only two words -- only two sentences from the Court's opinion in Everson which has been quoted by the Court in every opinion since.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment means at least this, “Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church, neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another.”

The appellant's position very simply is that just as this Court has repeatedly stated and indeed in the last case in the Flast case, that of course the First Amendment forbids aid to religion and that any tax funds that any taxes be exacted or spent on religion.

That it's the appellant's submission that this exemption from real estate taxes is precisely the same as if the State of New York had passed a law stating that all religious property shall be valued, so that at least we might know its valuation and its increasing valuation, and shall be taxed like all other property.

But that upon application by the taxpayer, disclosing that it is a religious organization and that the property is used solely for religious purposes, these taxes should be refunded.

We submit to the Court that the exemption before us is no different, and that if this Court would strike down the hypothetical statute I've suggested, it should strike down the exemption statute of the State of New York.

Mr. Ennis, does this statute limit the exemption to Religious Corporation?

Edward J. Ennis:

No, Your Honor, the statute --

Part of a broader statute isn't it?

Edward J. Ennis:

Of course, if the religious corporation is in the general provisions which exempts educational institutions, hospitals and the like, and it includes religious corporations.

We of course submit Your Honor, I'll have a word to say about the suggestion that religion can be subsumed under charitable activities, but it is so far as the statute is concerned, included with these other classifications.

Warren E. Burger:

Would your argument go so far as to reach hospitals run by religious orders?

Edward J. Ennis:

Oh, no, no of course not Your Honor.

The hospitals, the asylums, the orphanages, the educational institutions, schools, all of these institutions which are run by religious organizations are exempt from real estate taxes by virtue of their function.

Our argument only reaches to property used exclusively for religious purposes.

Warren E. Burger:

Does that not assume that religious oriented schools are not teaching religion?

Edward J. Ennis:

No, no it does not at all Your Honor.

But the statute --

Warren E. Burger:

But you have no trouble I take it with the school which is teaching religion to young children at an early age or to college students at a later age?

Edward J. Ennis:

I have no trouble in exempting the real estate from taxation.

And in any event, Your Honor, the statute relieves us from this problem because the statute we're addressing ourself to exempts only property which is used exclusively for religious purposes.

Now, we do not have to address ourselves to what might be a more difficult problem as is to whether a hospital run by a church institution, whether physical care is sufficiently permeated with religious instruction to render it suspect.

We don't have to deal with that.

Could I ask you this question?

Supposing New York changed its statute and granted the exemption to every kind of charitable organization except a purely religious organization, would you think that would give rise to a free exercise question?

Edward J. Ennis:

No, Your Honor, I do not.

You don't.

Edward J. Ennis:

The -- I -- I think that the constitution does not forbid the legislature to grant exemptions to charitable organizations, but only to religious organizations.