Court Decisions Regarding the ULC and Religions


THE FIRST AMENDMENT

CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF: OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH, OR OF THE PRESS; OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE, AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.

'If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that NO official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein, If there are ANY circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us." United States Supreme Court (1943) West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 US 624.

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA vs. UNIVERSAL LIFE CHURCH, INC. Plaintiff MAR 1, 1974 -vs- United States of America Defendant Civil No. S-1964 Order "From the Findings of Fact, the Court concludes, as a matter of law, that the plaintiff should prevail. Certainly, one seeking a tax exemption has the burden of establishing his right to a tax-exempt status. An organization qualifies for an exemption under 26 U.S.C. Sec. 501(c)(3) only if it is 'organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes.' * * *1 In the defendant's Memorandum in Support of its requested Instructions, filed February 28, 1973, 'the Government admits that the plaintiff passes the 'organizational test. '..."

"The Court must then address itself to the defendant's second conclusion: that the ordination of ministers, the granting of church charters and the issuance of Honorary Doctor of Divinity certificates by the plaintiff are substantial activities which do not further any religious purpose. Certainly the ordination of ministers and the chartering of churches are accepted activities of religious organizations. The defendant impliedly admits the same on Page 5 of its Memorandum in Support of its Requested Instructions. The fact that the plaintiff distributed ministers' credentials and Honorary Doctor of Divinity certificates is of no moment. Such activity may be analogized to mass conversions at a typical revival or religious crusade. Neither this Court, nor any branch of this Government, will consider the merits or fallacies of a religion. Nor will the Court compare the beliefs, dogmas, and practices of a newly organized religion with those of an older, more established religion. Nor will the Court praise or condemn a religion, however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may seem. Were the Court to do so, it would impinge upon the guarantees of the First Amendment..."

"IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the plaintiff be and is entitled to a Federal Tax Exemption and to a refund of all monies levied against by the defendant with interest thereon from the date of levy, March 19, 1970. "IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendant's counterclaim be and is dismissed and the plaintiff is entitled to recover the reasonable costs of the suit herein. "IT IS ALSO ORDERED that the plaintiff submit and appropriate judgment in accordance herewith. "Done and dated this 27th day of February, 1974." James F. Batten United States District Judge

The latest victory came in the U.S. Appellate Court in Richmond, Va. The court reversed a $160,000 judgment against the church. The plaintiff in the suit was Sandra Lynch, who charged the church with fraudulently representing that the church could perform a valid marriage license. The federal court ruled that there was not a sufficient showing of fraud by the church. Her action did not fall within the statute of limitations. There was extensive testimony that Universal Life ministers had researched the laws and found reasons to believe they could perform marriages. To clear up the matter, the North Carolina Legislature passed a "curative law" to legalize all such previous marriages. The decision is one in a long string which the Universal Life Church has won against legal attacks, including a number by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.