First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles County

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtSHENK; TRAYNOR; GIBSON; CARTER; Douglas
Citation311 P.2d 508,48 Cal.2d 419
PartiesFIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH OF LOS ANGELES, a corporation, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, City of Los Angeles, H. L. Byram, County of Los Angeles Tax Collector, and John R. Quinn, County of Los Angeles Assessor, Defendants and Respondents. L. A. 23847.
Decision Date24 April 1957

Page 508

311 P.2d 508
48 Cal.2d 419
FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH OF LOS ANGELES, a corporation, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, City of Los Angeles, H. L. Byram, County of Los Angeles Tax Collector, and John R. Quinn, County of Los Angeles Assessor, Defendants and Respondents.
L. A. 23847.
Supreme Court of California.
April 24, 1957.
Rehearing Denied May 22, 1957.

Page 510

[48 Cal.2d 424] William B. Murrish, Los Angeles, George T. Altman, Beverly Hills, and Robert L. Brock, Hollywood, for appellant.

Harold W. Kennedy, County Counsel, Gordon Boller, Asst. County Counsel, and Alfred C. DeFlon, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for respondents.

SHENK, Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment for the defendants following an order sustanining a general demurrer to the complaint without leave to amend.

The action was brought to recover taxes paid under protest and for declaratory relief. The plaintiff is a duly organized non-profit religious organization with its principal office in the City of Los Angeles. It is the owner of real property devoted exclusively to religious purposes and located within the jurisdiction of, and subject to property taxation by, the County and

Page 511

City of Los Angeles. It presented to the assessor of Los Angeles County an application for the exemption of its property, particularly described, for the fiscal year 1954-1955. The application was denied by the assessor on the ground that the plaintiff had not qualified for an exemption because it had failed and refused to include in the application for exemption the nonsubversive declarations required by section 32 of the Revenue and Taxation Code. The application was otherwise complete. Thereafter the real property of the plaintiff was assessed as property not exempt, and within the time prescribed by law the plaintiff paid the tax under protest and brought this action for the recovery of the sum so paid. The assessor refused to allow the exemption because of the provisions of section 19 of article XX of the Constitution 1 and section 32 of the Revenue and Taxation Code. 2

Section 19 of article XX was adopted at the general election on November 4, 1952, and was placed as a new section in that article under the heading 'Miscellaneous Subjects.' The section reads:

'Sec. 19. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, no person or organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or the [48 Cal.2d 425] State by force or violence or other unlawful means or who advocates the support of a foreign government against the United States in the event of hostilities shall:

'(a) Hold any office or employment under this State, including but not limited to the University of California, or with any county, city or county, city, district, political subdivision, authority, board, bureau, commission or other public agency of this State; or

'(b) Receive any exemption from any tax imposed by this State or any county, city or county, city, district, political subdivision, authority, board, bureau, commission or other public agency of this State.

'The Legislature shall enact such laws as may be necessary to enforce the provisions of this section.' Stats.1953.

Following the amendment to the Constitution section 32 was added to the Revenue and Taxation Code in 1953. It is as follows:

'Any statement, return, or other document in which is claimed any exemption, other than the householder's exemption, from any property tax imposed by this State or any county, city or county, city, district, political subdivision, authority, board, bureau, commission or other public agency of this State shall contain a declaration that the person or organization making the statement, return, or other document does not advocate the overthrow of the Government of the United States or 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 event of hostilities. If any such statement, return, or other document does not contain such declaration, the person or organization making such statement, return, or other document shall not receive any exemption from the tax to which the statement, return, or other document pertains. Any person or organization who makes such declaration knowing it to be false is guilty of a felony. This section shall be construed so as to effectuate the purpose of Section 19 of Article XX of the Constitution.' Stats.1953, p. 3114.

The plaintiff contends that both the constitutional provision and the code section are invalid. It is argued that the imposition and collection of taxes sought to be recovered and the denial of the church property tax exemption provided for in section 1 1/2 of article XIII of the Constitution, as applied to the plaintiff church and all

Page 512

other churches similarly situated, was and is in violation of the provisions of the [48 Cal.2d 426] state and federal constitutions which require reasonable and proper classifications for purposes of taxation and provide for freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the protection of other rights specified in the protest a copy of which is attached to and made a part of the complaint. The provisions of the protest will be referred to later on in this opinion.

It is noted that section 19 of article XX does not specifically mention churches or any other organizations or individuals which are subject to its provisions. Its terms are general and apply to all owners of property as to which exemption from taxation might be claimed.

It is fundamental that the payment of taxes has been and is a uniform if not a universal demand of government, and that there is an obligation on the part of the owner of property to pay a tax legally assessed. An exemption from taxation is the exception and the unusual. To provide for it under the laws of this state requires constitutional or constitutionally authorized statutory authority. It is a bounty or gratuity on the part of the sovereign and when once granted may be withdrawn. It may be granted with or without conditions but where reasonable conditions are imposed they must be complied with.

A church organization is in no different position initially than any other owner of property with reference to its obligations to assist in the support of government by the payment of taxes. Church organizations, however, throughout the history of the state, have been made special beneficiaries by way of exemptions. A brief reference to the constitutional and statutory background relating to this and other exemptions in this state will be made.

We find in the Constitution of 1849 the following provisions: 'Taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the State. All property in this State shall be taxed proportion to its value, to be ascertained as directed by law * * *.' Art. XI, § 13, Laws of California, 1850-53, p. 57. No provision for exemption from taxation is found in that Constitution. In 1853 the Legislature passed an act entitled 'An Act to provide Revenue for the Support of the Government of this State.' Laws of California, 1850-53, p. 669. In section 1 of article I it was provided that all land in the state owned or claimed by any person or corporation shall be listed for taxation. In section 2 of the same article it was provided that 'The following property shall not be listed for taxation.' Then followed several paragraphs where numerous classifications[48 Cal.2d 427] of property are named, such as publicly owned property, town halls, public squares, colleges, schoolhouses, public hospitals, asylums, poor houses, cemeteries and graveyards. In paragraph 5 it was provided that the following also shall not be listed for taxation: 'Churches, chapels, and other buildings for religious worship, with their furniture and equipments, and the lots of ground appurtenant thereto and used therewith, so long as the same shall be used for that purpose only.' Laws of California, 1850-1853, p. 671.

This statutory method of providing for exemptions continued until the adoption of the Constitution of 1879. Section 1 of articel XIII of the new Constitution required constitutional authority for exemptions. It was there provided that 'All property in the State except as otherwise in this Constitution provided, * * * shall be taxed in proportion to its value, to be ascertained as provided by law * * *.' In subsequent sections of the same article the exemption of numerous classes of particularly described property is provided for. Section 1 1/2 of article XIII provides for the church exemption as follows: 'All buildings, and so much of the real property on which they are situated as may be required for the convenient use and occupation of said buildings, when the same are used solely and exclusively for religious worship * * * shall be free from taxation * * *.'

Page 513

In 1944 section 1c was added to article XIII which provides that 'In addition to such exemptions as are now provided in this Constitution, the Legislature may exempt from taxation all or any portion of property used exclusively for religious, hospital or charitable purposes * * *.' This provision did not have the effect of changing existing laws with reference to the exemption of church property except to authorize the Legislature to extend the exemption of that property as provided for in section 1 1/2 of article XIII to its personal property. Whether that section is self-executing is of no concern for in 1903 the Legislature added section 3611 to the Political Code, repeating the constitutional language which exempted church real property and providing among other things that 'any person claiming property to be exempt from taxation under this section shall make a return thereof to the assessor annually, the same as property is listed for taxation, and shall accompany the same by an affidavit showing that the building is used solely...

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16 practice notes
  • Speiser v. Randall Prince v. City and County of San Francisco, California, Nos. 382
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 30, 1958
    ...was designed to relieve the tax assessor of 'the burden * * * of ascertaining the facts with reference to tax exemption claimants.' 48 Cal.2d 419, 432, 311 P.2d 508, 515. The declaration, while intended to provide a means of determining whether a claimant qualifies for the exemption under t......
  • Pooh-Bah Enterprises v. County of Cook, No. 105971.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • March 19, 2009
    ...freedom of speech imposed by section 19 of article XX be deemed a substantial one.' [First Unitarian Church v. County of Los Angeles], 48 Cal.2d 419, 440, 311 P.2d 508, 521. It is settled that speech can be effectively limited by the exercise of the taxing power. Grosjean v. American Press ......
  • Ricky H., In re, Cr. 14091
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 30, 1970
    ...etc. v. Watson, 63 Cal.2d 829, 833, 48 Cal.Rptr. 481, 484, 409 P.2d 481, 484; accord First Unitarian Church v. County of Los Angeles, 48 Cal.2d 419, 433, 311 P.2d 508.) The Legislature could well have determined that legislation requiring reimbursement of costs in juvenile court proceedings......
  • Katzev v. County of Los Angeles
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 25, 1959
    ...all others which might be affected in the same field of legislation (First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. County of Los Angeles, 48 Cal.2d 419, 433, 311 P.2d 508; Williamson v. Lee Optical of Okl., 348 U.S. 483, 489, 75 S.Ct. 461, 99 L.Ed. 563), thus striking 'at the evil where it is fe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Speiser v. Randall Prince v. City and County of San Francisco, California, Nos. 382
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 30, 1958
    ...was designed to relieve the tax assessor of 'the burden * * * of ascertaining the facts with reference to tax exemption claimants.' 48 Cal.2d 419, 432, 311 P.2d 508, 515. The declaration, while intended to provide a means of determining whether a claimant qualifies for the exemption under t......
  • Pooh-Bah Enterprises v. County of Cook, No. 105971.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • March 19, 2009
    ...freedom of speech imposed by section 19 of article XX be deemed a substantial one.' [First Unitarian Church v. County of Los Angeles], 48 Cal.2d 419, 440, 311 P.2d 508, 521. It is settled that speech can be effectively limited by the exercise of the taxing power. Grosjean v. American Press ......
  • Ricky H., In re, Cr. 14091
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 30, 1970
    ...etc. v. Watson, 63 Cal.2d 829, 833, 48 Cal.Rptr. 481, 484, 409 P.2d 481, 484; accord First Unitarian Church v. County of Los Angeles, 48 Cal.2d 419, 433, 311 P.2d 508.) The Legislature could well have determined that legislation requiring reimbursement of costs in juvenile court proceedings......
  • Katzev v. County of Los Angeles
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 25, 1959
    ...all others which might be affected in the same field of legislation (First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. County of Los Angeles, 48 Cal.2d 419, 433, 311 P.2d 508; Williamson v. Lee Optical of Okl., 348 U.S. 483, 489, 75 S.Ct. 461, 99 L.Ed. 563), thus striking 'at the evil where it is fe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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