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Case Basics
Docket No. 
California Board of Equalization
Swaggart Ministries
(Argued the cause for the appellant)
(Argued the cause for the appellee)
Facts of the Case 

California law required retailers to pay a 6 percent sales tax on in-state sales of tangible personal property and residents to pay a 6 percent use tax on such property if purchased out of state. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, incorporated in Louisiana, sold religious materials to California residents through several direct and mail-order "evangelistic crusades." After auditing his ministry, the California Board of Equalization ("Board") told Swaggart that under California law he had to register his ministry as a seller so the Board could collect the appropriate sales and use taxes. After paying the taxes, Swaggart petitioned the Board for a refund. When his petition was rejected, Swaggart challenged the Board in state court. Following two unfavorable rulings below, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Swaggart's petition for certiorari.


Did California's imposition of a sales and use tax on the sale of religious materials violate the Free Exercise or Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment?

Decision: 9 votes for California Board of Equalization, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Free Exercise of Religion

No. Basing its unanimous decision on the fact that California's sales and use tax was not a flat tax, affected only a small portion of retail sales, and was neutrally applied, the Court found the taxes constitutional. Moreover, since the taxes were not imposed as a precondition to spreading any given message and were due regardless of registration, the Court rejected Swaggart's claim that California's no-fee registration requirement acted as a prior restraint on his religious organization. Finally, the Court held that any administrative burdens associated with the payment of taxes did not give rise to an establishment conflict since they did not cause excessive entanglement between the government and Swaggart's organization.

Cite this Page
SWAGGART MINISTRIES v. CALIFORNIA BOARD OF EQUALIZATION. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1374>.
SWAGGART MINISTRIES v. CALIFORNIA BOARD OF EQUALIZATION, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1374 (last visited August 26, 2015).
"SWAGGART MINISTRIES v. CALIFORNIA BOARD OF EQUALIZATION," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1374.