A Minnesota law required charitable groups to register with the state's Department of Commerce. They were then required to submit annual reports of receipts and expenditures to be monitored by the DoC. If more than thirty percent of their annual funds were spent on administrative costs, its would no longer be permitted to solicit contributions in the state. Religious groups who solicited more than fifty percent of its contributions from members or affiliated organizations were exempt from registering. Several members of the Unification Church claimed that this violated the Establishment Clause.
The Court ruled 5-4 that the Minnesota law was unconstitutional because it placed a burden on certain religions and was not closely enough related to furthering a specific governmental interest.
|Majority Opinion: (Justice Brennan)|
The religious exemption favors certain religions in a manner prohibited by earlier Court decisions. Therefore, the state must prove that it has a compelling interest that is being met in passing the legislation. Their stated interest is to protect citizens from abusive practices by fund-raising organizations. This is an appropriately secular purpose. They claim that the fifty percent requirement will protect contributors because members who contribute oversee the expenditure of their donations. The Court rejects this claim because even if the members can supervise the use of money, they do not necessarily have any control over the money. Minnesota's other claim, that the need for disclosure decreases as the percentage of outside contribution decreases, is also rejected because the importance of oversight should be related to absolute figures. The law violates the Lemon test because it favors certain religions but not others. It imposes a selective burden on certain religious groups.
Dissenting Opinion: (Justice Rehnquist:)
The Supreme Court is not to give advisory opinions at all, or to decide constitutional issues unless clearly needed. In this case the alleged injury caused stems from the group having to register because of its status as a charitable organization and not from the 50% exception rule for religious groups. Therefore, the Court should not decide the constitutionality of the statute because it is not the cause of the issue at hand and doing so would be to administer an advisory ruling.
This decision prevents states from passing laws that might favor certain types of religions (in this case, those who receive a majority of their contributions from members). The state would have to exempt all religions from registering with the Department of Commerce in order to not violate the Lemon test.
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Last modified: 02/16/01