The Religious Freedom Page

Bob Jones University v. United States

461 U.S. 574 (1983)

Facts of the Case:

Bob Jones University was a Christian university that believed interracial dating and marriage was contrary to the its faith. In 1970, the Internal Revenue Service prohibited granting tax-exempt status to private schools that practiced racial discrimination. Included in this case was another religious school that racially discriminated in its admissions process. Both school sued when the IRS revoked their tax-exempt status.


The Supreme Court upheld the IRS's decision by an 8-1 vote.

Majority Opinion: (Chief Justice Burger)

The Internal Revenue correctly interpreted the law prohibiting tax exempt status to schools with racially discriminatory policies. The purpose behind relieving schools from paying taxes is that they serve a charitable function. However, racially discriminatory policies offset these benefits. Therefore, the IRS did not exceed its authority, because the government has an "overriding, fundamental interest in eradicating discrimination". The IRS policy was based on neutral, secular bases. The decision will not prevent discriminatory schools from operating. In summary, the "governmental interest substantially outweighs whatever burden" might be felt by institutions. In an earlier case, Prince v. Massachusetts, in which child labor laws were used to prevent religious youths from disseminating religious literature.


This case clearly demonstrated that the government's interests can outweigh individual religious beliefs. Religious belief can not be used as an excuse for engaging in behavior that violates socially important beliefs.

RealAudio of Oral Argument


   Oral Argument.

Get the RealAudio Player from Progressive Networks to listen to the argument.

Copyright © The Religious Freedom Page.