456 U.S. 228 (1982), 80-1666, Larson v. Valente

Docket Nº:No. 80-1666
Citation:456 U.S. 228, 102 S.Ct. 1673, 72 L.Ed.2d 33
Party Name:Larson v. Valente
Case Date:April 21, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

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456 U.S. 228 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 1673, 72 L.Ed.2d 33




No. 80-1666

United States Supreme Court

April 21, 1982

Argued December 9, 1981




A section (§ 309.515, subd. 1(b)) of Minnesota's charitable solicitations Act provides that only those religious organizations that receive more than half of their total contributions from members or affiliated organizations are exempt from the registration and reporting requirements of the Act. The individual appellees, claiming to be followers of the tenets of appellee Unification Church (later joined as a plaintiff) [102 S.Ct. 1675] brought suit in Federal District Court seeking a declaration that the statute, on its face and as applied to them, violated, inter alia, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and also seeking injunctive relief. After obtaining a preliminary injunction, appellees moved for summary judgment. Upon finding that the "overbreadth" doctrine gave appellees standing to challenge the statute, the Magistrate to whom the action had been transferred held that the application of the statute to religious organizations violated the Establishment Clause, and therefore recommended declaratory and permanent injunctive relief. The District Court, accepting this recommendation, entered summary judgment for appellees. The Court of Appeals affirmed on both the standing issue and on the merits. But the court, disagreeing with the District Court's conclusion that appellees and others should enjoy the religious organization exemption from the Act merely by claiming to be such organizations, held that proof of religious organization status was required in order to gain the exemption, and left the question of appellees' status "open . . . for further development." Accordingly, the court vacated the District Court's judgment and remanded for entry of a modified injunction and further proceedings.


1. Appellees have Art. III standing to raise their Establishment Clause claims. The State attempted to use § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule to compel the Unification Church to register and report under the Act. The fact that the fifty percent rule only applies to religious organizations compels the conclusion that, at least for purposes of this suit challenging that application, appellee Unification Church is a religious organization within the meaning of the Act. The controversy between

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the parties is not rendered any less concrete by the fact that appellants, in the course of this litigation, have changed their position to contend that the Unification Church is not a religious organization within the meaning of the Act, and that therefore it would not be entitled to an exemption under § 309.515, subd. 1(b) even if the fifty percent rule were declared unconstitutional. This is so because the threatened application of § 309.515, subd. 1(b), and its fifty percent rule to appellees amounts to a distinct and palpable injury to them, in that it disables them from soliciting contributions in Minnesota unless they comply with the registration and reporting requirements of the Act. Moreover, there is a causal connection between the claimed injury and the challenged conduct. The fact that appellees have not yet shown an entitlement to a permanent injunction barring the State from subjecting them to the Act's registration and reporting requirements does not detract from the palpability of the particular and discrete injury caused to appellees. Pp. 238-244.

2. Section 309.515, subd. 1(b), in setting up precisely the sort of official denominational preference forbidden by the First Amendment, violates the Establishment Clause. Pp. 244-255.

(a) Since the challenged statute grants denominational preferences, it must be treated as suspect, and strict scrutiny must be applied in adjudging its constitutionality. Pp. 244-246.

(b) Assuming, arguendo, that appellants' asserted interest in preventing fraudulent solicitations is a "compelling" interest, appellants have nevertheless failed to demonstrate that § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule is "closely fitted" to that interest. Appellants' argument to the contrary is based on three premises: (1) that members of a religious organization can and will exercise supervision and control over the solicitation activities of the organization when membership contributions exceed fifty percent; (2) that membership control, assuming its existence, is an adequate safeguard against abusive solicitations of the public; and (3) that the need for public disclosure rises in proportion with the percentage of nonmember contributions. There is no substantial support in [102 S.Ct. 1676] the record for any of these premises. Pp. 246-251.

(c) Where the principal effect of § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule is to impose the Act's registration and reporting requirements on some religious organizations but not on others, the "risk of politicizing religion" inhering in the statute is obvious. Pp. 251-255.

637 F.2d 562, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 256. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in

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which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 258. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 264.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question presented by this appeal is whether a Minnesota statute, imposing certain registration and reporting requirements upon only those religious organizations that solicit more than fifty percent of their funds from nonmembers, discriminates against such organizations in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.1


Appellants are John R. Larson, Commissioner of Securities, and Warren Spannaus, Attorney General, of the State of Minnesota. They are, by virtue of their offices, responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the Minnesota charitable solicitations Act, Minn.Stat. §§ 309.50-309.61 (1969 and Supp.1982). This Act, in effect since 1961, provides for a system of registration and disclosure respecting

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charitable organizations, and is designed to protect the contributing public and charitable beneficiaries against fraudulent practices in the solicitation of contributions for purportedly charitable purposes. A charitable organization subject to the Act must register with the Minnesota Department of Commerce before it may solicit contributions within the State. § 309.52. With certain specified exceptions, all charitable organizations registering under § 309.52 must file an extensive annual report with the Department, detailing, inter alia, their total receipts and income from all sources, their costs of management, fundraising, and public education, and their transfers of property or funds out of the State, along with a description of the recipients and purposes of those transfers. § 309.53. The Department is authorized by the Act to deny or withdraw the registration of any charitable organization if the Department finds that it would be in "the public interest" to do so and if the organization is found to have engaged in fraudulent, deceptive, or dishonest practices. § 309.532, subd. 1 (Supp.1982). Further, a charitable organization is deemed ineligible to maintain its registration under the Act if it expends or agrees to expend an "unreasonable amount" for management, general, and fundraising costs, with those costs being presumed unreasonable if they exceed thirty percent of the organization's total income and revenue. § 309.555, subd. 1a (Supp.1982).

From 1961 until 1978, all "religious organizations" were exempted from the requirements of the Act.2 But effective March 29, 1978, the Minnesota Legislature [102 S.Ct. 1677] amended the Act so as to include a "fifty percent rule" in the exemption provision covering religious organizations. § 309.515, subd. 1(b). This fifty percent rule provided that only those religious organizations that received more than half of their total contributions

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from members or affiliated organizations would remain exempt from the registration and reporting requirements of the Act. 1978 Minn. Laws, ch. 601, § 5.3

Shortly after the enactment of § 309.515, subd. 1(b), the Department notified appellee Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (Unification Church) that it was required to register under the Act because of the newly enacted provision.4 Appellees Valente, Barber, Haft, and Korman, claiming to be followers of the tenets of the Unification

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Church, responded by bringing the present action in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. Appellees sought a declaration that the Act, on its face and as applied to them through § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule, constituted an abridgment of their First Amendment rights of expression and free exercise of religion, as well as a denial of their right to equal protection of the laws, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment;5 appellees also sought

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temporary and permanent injunctive relief. Appellee Unification Church was later joined as a [102 S.Ct. 1678] plaintiff by stipulation of the parties, and the action was transferred to a United States Magistrate.

After obtaining a preliminary injunction,6 appellees moved for summary judgment. Appellees' evidentiary support for this motion included a "declaration" of appellee Haft, which described in some detail the origin, "religious principles," and practices of the Unification...

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