The Supreme Court, in a case involving the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, agreed Monday to decide if states can tax sales of religious materials.
The court will hear arguments next term in the case brought by Swaggart seeking review of rulings by California courts that upheld the taxes. The case stems from a series of "evangelistic crusades" held in California from 1974 to 1981.During those crusades, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries sold a variety of merchandise including religious books, records and tapes, and such items as mugs, bowls, plates, pen and pencil sets, vases, communion cups, candlesticks, a replica of a Roman coin, T-shirts and replicas of the Crown of Thorns and Ark of the Covenant.
In 1980, the Board of Equalization of the State of California became aware of the sales and informed the Ministries there was no sales tax exemption for religious materials. The board eventually concluded the Ministries owed some $180,000 in sales taxes on nearly $2 million in sales made both in the state and through a mail-order operation.
Swaggart Ministries paid the amount but brought suit seeking a refund, charging the tax violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which declares there shall be no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. State courts, however, upheld the tax.
Seeking high court review, Swaggart Ministries argued that "religious liberty is indeed endangered if by having a religious crusade in California the evangelist become subject to hundreds if not thousands of taxing jurisdictions when it later distributes religious material by mail to California residents."
Arguing against review, the state said the Swaggart appeal was "full of misleading, inaccurate and incorrect statements."