First Unitarian Church v. Los Angeles, et. al.
Decided on June 30, 1958; 357 US 545


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: 1st Amendment, 14th Amendment, Civil Rights (state)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is it permissible to deny religious tax exemptions to organizations which refuse to participate in certain kinds of speech? Does the enforcement of Section 19 of Article 20 of the California State Constitution, designating burdens of proof and persuasion on the taxpayer, violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles and the Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church, Inc. petitioned to have their church property taxes exempted according to Art. [13] [Section] 1 1/2 of the California State Constitution. The Los Angeles county assessor denied the exemption on the ground that the parties had refused to subscribe to an oath that "they did not advocate the overthrow of the Government of the United States and of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means, nor advocate the support of a foreign government against the United States in the event of hostilities."

Both petitioners sued their respective Superior Courts for the County of Los Angeles to return paid property taxes and for declaratory relief. The petitioners claimed the provisions which allowed the Los Angeles county assessor to refuse their tax relief violated the Federal Constitution.

The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles lost its case at the Los Angeles Superior Court level. On appeal, The Supreme Court of California upheld the validity of the State's tax code provisions, and affirmed the Los Angeles Superior Court's decision. The US Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The Superior Court in the action brought by petitioner Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church, upheld the validity of the provisions under the Federal Constitution, but held that Section 32 of the Revenue and Taxation Code violated the California Constitution "because it excluded or exempted householders from the requirement." The Supreme Court of California reversed the lower court's decision, and the US Supreme Court granted ceritiorari.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
A. L. Wirin argued the causes for petitioners. With him on the brief were Fred Okrand, Robert L. Brock and George T. Altman.
Gordon Boller argued the causes for respondents. With him on the brief was Harold W. Kennedy.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Kenneth W. Greenawalt filed a brief of amici curiae for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Additional briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Harold Evans and Allen S. Olmsted for the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Claude C. Smith for the American Friends Service Committee, Inc., and Stanley A. Weigel and Frank B. Frederick for the First Methodist Church of San Leandro and the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley.
No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Respondent

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[T]he petitioners argue that the provisions [under Section 19 of Article 20 of the State Constitution and Section 32 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code] are invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment as abridgments of religious freedom and as violations of the principle of separation of church and state. Our disposition of the cases, however, makes consideration of these questions unnecessary...

For the reasons expressed in Speiser v. Randall, we hold that the enforcement of [Section] 19 of Art. [20] of the State Constitution through procedures which place the burdens of proof and persuasion on the taxpayer is a violation of due process."
 
Held: The judgments are reversed and remanded. This case was decided as a companion case to Speiser v. Randall and Prince v. City and County of San Francisco, ante.
Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 1 Con
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Whittaker, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined concurring opinion)
  • Burton, H. Pro (Joined concurring opinion)
  • Clark, T. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Warren, E. Took no part in the decision
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus, urged reversal of The Supreme Court of California's judgment; the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the lower court in a 7-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.