Synagogue Council Files High Court Brief on Taxing Religious Property

The Synagogue Council of America has joined Catholic and Protestant bodies in filing a “friend-of-the-court” brief with the United States Supreme Court opposing the taxation of religious property and activities on grounds that it would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Synagogue Council represents the lay and rabbinical branches of Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative Judaism in America. Its co-petitioners are the U.S. Catholic Conference and the National Council of Churches.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a suit brought by Frederick Walz a New York taxpayer against the New York City Tax Commission. Mr. Walz’s complaint alleges that the tax exemption granted churches and synagogues violates the First and 14th Amendments governing freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. The case is viewed as one of the most important church-state litigations to come before the Supreme Court in this decade.

The Synagogue Council’s brief maintains that while the Government can levy no taxes in support of religious activities or institutions, “everything in the history of the separation of church and state indicates that this prohibition is bilateral, and the Government must not levy a tax upon religious property or activity to support itself.” The neutrality prescribed by the Constitution in the relations between Government and religion must be reciprocal, according to the brief. The Synagogue Council maintained further that taxation of property used for religious purposes would abridge the free exercise of religion. It conceded, however, the right to tax property owned by religious institutions that is used for non-religious business activities.

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