Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York Page 7

Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York general information

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

J. Lee Rankin:

The ones I know have a “Might” box or a collection time after time throughout the year to support those activities.

Some of them I know have a deacon's fund administered within the church structure itself to care for the poor and the unfortunate and it is a part of the doctrine and beliefs of the church.

You can go through a whole cross section of them, that people who have that religion will respect it, believe it and that is part of the doctrines that you not only believe in but you contribute to as a part of your worship, and you conduct that in the church, in the house of worship and the solicitation is made there almost every week, at least periodically.

And many churches also have provision for their own institutions that they maintain, and the parishioners are asked to contribute to them as a part of their religious belief and an obligation as a part of that religion.

William O. Douglas:

Your argument therefore I gather, is directed to position that as a consequence the government would not constitutionally be able to finance a church school or a church hospital then?

J. Lee Rankin:

I think that where you finance, a church school or hospital, you will do it, where this Court will permit it by the Government.

It will be in connection with case like Allen or other situations where you are carrying out the secular function, aiding of secular function which is not directly advancing the religion.

But I don't think that you can say that you can separate out of religion the elements of charity, or assistance to education, or other aspects that are the heart of it and have been for a thousand years.

Byron R. White:

So, you suggest I take it that the government should make a direct grant to a church to carry on charitable activity?

J. Lee Rankin:

No, I think you've ruled that kind of an activity out.

Byron R. White:

Well, but you're arguing now is that you can grant tax exemption though, because the churches are engaged in charity?

J. Lee Rankin:

Well, but a tax exemption is quite different from a direct taxing and imposing a tax upon individual in order that he contribute to the support of particular religious activity.

A tax exemption may not mean anything to Mr. Walz or to me as a taxpayer in New York City or many others; it is neutral in its effect.

It is entirely different by nature under tax laws, under tax constitutional principles from the other.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Rankin, if the appellant were to prevail with his arguments that this constitutes an aid to religion, to the establishment of religion, would you see any bearing on that kind of a ruling and the allowance of deductions for contributions to church which is now creature of statute and governed by regulations of I think most of the states and certainly the federal government?

J. Lee Rankin:

Well, I --

Warren E. Burger:

In other words, could that exemption survive if the appellant prevailed here?

J. Lee Rankin:

I can see many problems in that area if the appellant were to prevail here, because as Professor Bitkerr develops in his article in the Yale Law Journal, you would have the similar problem with regard to the Internal Revenue Act, the various provisions that Mr. Chief Justice, you're describing and tax laws throughout the federal structure as to whether or not if this is aid to education, aid to religion, that would not also be aid to religion.

And you would conflict immediately in that whole area with those laws.

I think it would cause a reexamination of the entire tax structure and the exemptions that are allowed in connection with religious charitable and educational activities and gifts as state benefits.

Finally, I'd like to say that I think this would have a great impact upon the social structure of this country if the appellant should prevail in this action.

I think it would --

Potter Stewart:

Speak a little louder, Mr. Rankin.

J. Lee Rankin:

I think it would penalize the small churches. The great establishments would be able to adjust to it.

The little parish church in the core city, in the country side that does not -- is not able to fall back upon the general congregations throughout the country.

Warren E. Burger:

I think we'll stop until 12:30 Mr. Rankin? [Luncheon Break]

Mr. Rankin, you may proceed.

J. Lee Rankin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I'd like to conclude my argument very briefly.

It seemed to me that one of the things that the Court would like to examine which I have put there in connection with this case, is what has happened after 200 years of this exemption with regard to the fears that this Court has described that brought about the provisions in the First Amendment about establishment and free exercise.