Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of choice, and more recently freedom from racial persecution; all of these freedoms belong to each and every person who is a citizen of the United States. Yet can any one of these freedoms be compromised to let another prevail? Take freedom of religion and racial discrimination, can one be discriminated against because of his color just because another’s religion teaches racism? Or can a certain religion be discriminated against because it teaches racism.
Even more importantly can the federal government legally force people to change how they believe or deprive them of certain benefits because of their beliefs? These exact arguments were at the center of a highly controversial court case that was brought before the Supreme Court in 1975. The case was between the Internal Revenue Service and a Christian college, Bob Jones University. The IRS claimed that Bob Jones University’s admittances policies were racially discriminatory and subsequently revoked their tax-exempt status as a private school.
However BJU countersued on the basis of encroaching their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion. Bob Jones University was founded as a “whites only” college in 1927 by evangelist Bob Jones Sr. in a small town called College Point, Florida. In 1933, the school moved to Cleveland, Tennessee; then it moved again in 1947 to Greenville, South Carolina, its present location. BJU students, around 5000 from kindergarten through college and onto graduate school, are studying for ministry or some other type of Christian service.
Over the course of its existence, the university has had upwards of 70,000 students sit under the teachings of Bob Jones. The school has over 100 academic majors for undergraduates and another 50 for graduate students to choose from. Bob Jones University has been a “whites only” institution from the time it was founded in 1927. Bob Jones Sr. in a radio address that he gave in 1960 outlined his philosophy on the subject of segregation. In the address titled “Is Segregation Scriptural? ” he stated: “God is the author of segregation and if you are against it then you are against God.
” Before 1964 no African Americans were admitted to the school, however after the Civil Rights Act only married African Americans students were admitted, the after 1975 all African Americans were admitted. BJU adheres to a strict code of conduct in regards to the on-campus behavior of its students. According to the handbook, “Dishonesty, lewdness, sensual behavior, adultery, homosexuality, sexual perversion of any kind, pornography, illegal use of drugs, and drunkenness–all are clearly condemned by God’s word and prohibited here” (13).
It is perhaps understandable that a strict Christian university would condemn immoral behavior of students and faculty. When the IRS revoked the university’s tax-exempt status, the United States was at a key point in the understanding of its internal culture. Freedoms of religion and speech were marked everywhere either through political demonstration, or the tolerance and acceptance of differing religious viewpoints. BJU, however, believed interracial dating and marriage went against God and their religious ethos.
It was this particular factor that contributed to the IRS first informing the university in 1970 that their tax-exempt status would be revoked. By law, universities were granted this exempt as an educational, charitable and/or religious institution. BJU’s policies were based on racism, according to the IRS, and therefore exempted them. The university’s response to this claim was a lawsuit filed in 1971. Appeals and injunctions led to the case being dismissed, much to the chagrin of BJU. With the IRS informing them again of the revoking of their tax-exempt status, the university filed another lawsuit in 1975.
What followed was an intricate game of taxes, as prefaced in the case documents: “After paying a portion of the federal unemployment taxes for a certain taxable year, the University filed a refund action in Federal District Court, and the Government counterclaimed for unpaid taxes for that and other taxable years. Holding that the IRS exceeded its powers in revoking the University’s tax-exempt status and violated the University’s rights under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, the District Court ordered the IRS to refund the taxes paid and rejected the counterclaim.
” (461 U. S. 574, 1983). The case was held before the Supreme Court, where it was argued that the IRS had not misinterpreted the laws governing tax-exemption for a charitable, religious or educational institution and that “the right of a student not to be segregated on racial grounds in schools . . . is indeed so fundamental and pervasive that it is embraced in the concept of due process of law. “(1983). It can be argued, that religion plays an integral role in the development of a person.
Everyone has some form of a belief system or may follow a particular religion, or have faith in a creed. Recent research finds that in universities and colleges, a level of spirituality can help students in their educational experiences. According to Muller and Dennis, “college students, who reported experiencing higher levels of life change, both positive and negative, also scored lower on spirituality. Nevertheless, these students had scores indicative of a higher desire to find spirituality, even though their motivation to do so was low” (60).
Universities that basis their education and courses around religious studies or practices perhaps enhance the university experience, however, does the belief of a university outweigh the belief of an individual? BJU believed that their educational policies were their right to uphold, despite staunch views on interracial dating and marriages. Around the time of the court case, they extended their admission policies to include single African Americans, and by the time the case was in full swing, were readily admitting all African American students. A change of heart towards their policies though was not enough for the IRS.
They insisted that the university’s status still be revoked. Schools and universities have been bastions for molding a country’s future and in persisting with this case, the government and indeed the IRS were making more than just a stand against unethical policies. America was changing, and showcasing that there was no tolerance towards racism was not only monumental, but a necessity. Pascal Mubenga argues, that “desegregation in public schools has resolved on issue of financial support” (Struggle, p9). Indeed the struggle for many schools at the time in the southern parts of America, was understanding that segregation only hurt the country.
In order for America to fully adopt a culture of freedom, it would have to learn tolerance and understanding. The “slavery” mentality was still marring organizations and communities. The decision of BJU v the U. S. was one that would finally put into action what was going to be acceptable practice, and what was not. In short, if educational institutes were going to keep their tax-exempt status, then it would mean the difference between tolerance and freedom of religion; or keeping to ‘slavery mentality’. BJU insisted that their First Amendment rights were being ignored. The Supreme Court, led by Justice Burger, disagreed.
They voted 8-1 that it was in the public’s interest that they based their decision, and “that governmental interest substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs” (Hanna, 1983). It meant that in order to protect the freedom of religion and rights of the public, and of those rights of future students at BJU, it was imperative that the government apply the law as it was written. The IRS had not misused the law, and the message was clear: if a university wanted to keep their tax-exempt, then they were going to have to progress into more encompassing policies.
The Supreme Court stated that, in the case of Bob Jones University, it did not meet the requirement of “providing “beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life” to be supported by taxpayers with a special tax status” – largely due to their racial policies, and it was these policies in particular which were racially discriminatory and therefore violated “fundamental national public policy” (Oyez, 2007). It had been argued that religious freedoms were as justified as any other. The Supreme Court rationalized that not all religious burdens are unconstitutional.
It is perhaps alarming to realize that such policies at a university existed 35 years ago. It wasn’t that long ago when BJU had marked clearly in their student handbook that “students who date outside of their own race will be expelled” (Oyez). We live in a millennium where tolerance is vital and some communities in America still struggle with issues of racism. A university setting is one, traditionally centered around education, but true learning is not necessarily gained within a classroom, but from those we attend those classes with.
Religious schools have just as much right to practice and educate as ones that are non-denominational, and arguably, their rights must also be protected. There should be tolerance towards religious school as well. However, such institutions should not endorse racism or discrimination. Their policies should be allowed to be guided by faith and beliefs, but not be considered a burden or provocative of hatred. At the heart of the BJU case, were policies on racism. The IRS was revoking their tax-exempt status because under law, the university failed to meet criteria to be considered as tax-exempt.
Rightfully so, as was stated by the Supreme Court. Whilst it was a numbers game and an issue of taxes which led to this case being filed, the underlying message sent was one centered on freedoms. The United States government was not prepared to recognize any positive value in discriminatory procedures or policies, and while the Constitution protected the rights of the individual and their free will, the government was prepared to protect the rights of the public. In a country which has become increasingly multi-cultural the conclusion of this monumental case was a precedent for this occurring.
Americans were reassured that the government were not going to recognize slavery mentality or endorse any form of segregation – they would and continue to protect the rights of the whole, so that we can all be individuals. Works Cited _. BOB JONES UNIVERSITY v. UNITED STATES, 461 U. S. 574 (1983), May 1983. FindLaw Case Resources <http://laws. findlaw. com/us/461/574. html> _. Bob Jones University v. US Oral Arguments. 1982, No 81-1. Oyez, US Supreme Court Media, < http://www. oyez. org/cases/1980-1989/1982/1982_81_3/ > _. Bob Jones University Handbook. Bob Jones University, 2005-2006. p13. _. The Oyez Project, Bob Jones University v.
U. S. , 461 U. S. 574 (1983), available at: <http://www. oyez. org/cases/1980-1989/1982/1982_81_3/> Hanna, Stanley J. “Bob Jones University v. United States: Interpretation and Conclusions. ” Journal of Education Finance, v9 n2 p235-40 Fall 1983 Muller, Susan M. ; Dennis, Dixie L. “Life Change and Spirituality among a College Student Cohort”. Journal of American College Health, v56 n1 p55-60 Jul-Aug 2007 Mubenga, Pascal. “The Struggle of African American Students in the Public Schools” ERIC ID# ED491396, 2006 Online Submission <http://www. eric. ed. gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet? accno=ED491396 >
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