Opinions & Commentaries

Overruled

By writ of certiorari in Nos. 280 and 314 and by appeal in No. 966 we have before us the question of the constitutionality *586 of various city ordinances imposing the license taxes upon the sale of printed matter for nonpayment of which the appellant, Jobin, and the petitioners, Jones, Bowden and Sanders, all members of the organization known as Jehovah's Witnesses, were convicted.

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The City of Jeannette, Pennsylvania, has an ordinance, some forty years old, which provides in part:

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Petitioners brought this suit in the United States District Court for Western Pennsylvania to restrain threatened criminal prosecution of them in the state courts by respondents, the City of Jeannette (a Pennsylvania municipal corporation) and its Mayor, for violation of a city ordinance which prohibits the solicitation of orders for merchandise without first procuring a license from the city authorities and paying a license tax. The ordinance as applied is held to be an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech, press and religion in Murdock v. Pennsylvania, ante, p. 105. The questions decisive of the present case are whether the district court has statutory jurisdiction as a federal court to entertain the suit, and whether petitioners have by their pleadings and proof established a cause of action in equity.

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319 U.S. 103 63 S.Ct. 890 87 L.Ed. 1290 Roscoe JONES, Petitioner,v.CITY OF OPELIKA. Lois BOWDEN and Zada Sanders, Petitioners, v. CITY OF FORT SMITH, ARKANSAS. Charles JOBIN, Appellant, v. The STATE OF ARIZONA. Nos. 280, 314, 966. Reargued March 10, 11, 1943. Decided May 3, 1943. Robert MURDOCK, Jr., Petitioner, v. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA (CITY OF JEANNETTE), and seven other cases. Nos. 280, 314, 966, 480—487. Supreme Court of the United States Reargued March 10, 11, 1943. May 3, 1943 Mr. Justice REED, dissenting. Mr. Hayden C. Covington, of Brooklyn, N.Y., for petitioners. No appearance for respondents. PER CURIAM. […]

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Appellant was convicted of violating an ordinance of the town of McCormick, South Carolina which provided: ". . . the following license on business, occupation and professions to be paid by the person or persons carrying on or engaged in such business, occupation or professions within the corporate limits of the Town of McCormick, South Carolina: Agents selling books, per day $1.00, per year $15.00." Appellant is a Jehovah's Witness and has been certified by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society as "an ordained minister of Jehovah God to preach the gospel of God's kingdom under Christ Jesus." He is a resident of McCormick, South Carolina, where he went from house to house distributing certain books. He obtained his living from the money received; he had no other source of income. He claimed that he merely offered the books for a "contribution." But there was evidence that he "offered to and did sell the books." Admittedly he had no license from the town and refused to obtain one. He moved for a directed verdict of not guilty at the close of the evidence, claiming that the ordinance restricted freedom of worship in violation of the First Amendment which the Fourteenth Amendment makes applicable to the States. The motion was overruled and appellant was found guilty by the jury in the Mayor's Court. That judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of General Sessions for McCormick County and then by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. The case is here on appeal. Judicial Code, § 237 (a), 28 U.S.C. § 344 (a).

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The appellants are honorably discharged veterans of World War II who claimed the veterans' property-tax *515 exemption provided by Art. XIII, § 1 1/4, of the California Constitution. Under California law applicants for such exemption must annually complete a standard form of application and file it with the local assessor. The form was revised in 1954 to add an oath by the applicant: "I do 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." Each refused to subscribe the oath and struck it from the form which he executed and filed for the tax year 1954-1955. Each contended that the exaction of the oath as a condition of obtaining a tax exemption was forbidden by the Federal Constitution. The respective assessors denied the exemption solely for the refusal to execute the oath. The Supreme Court of California sustained the assessors' actions against the appellants' claims of constitutional invalidity.[1] We noted probable jurisdiction of the appeals. 355 U. S. 880.

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419 U.S. 7 (1974) UNITED STATES v. AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE ET AL. No. 73-1791. Supreme Court of United States. Decided October 29, 1974. APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. PER CURIAM. Appellee American Friends Service Committee (employer) is a religious corporation, whose principal operation is philanthropic work and many of whose employees are conscientious objectors to war, performing alternative civilian service. Appellees Lorraine Cleveland and Leonard Cadwallader (employees) are present or past employees of the employer. Because of their religious beliefs, the employees in 1969 requested their employer to cease withholding 51.6%[1]*8 […]

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This case presents the question of a State's power to impose a special tax on the press and, by enacting exemptions, to limit its effect to only a few newspapers.

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The petitioners, United States citizen employees of the Panama Canal Commission and their spouses, seek refunds of income taxes collected on salaries paid by the Commission between 1979 and 1981. We granted certiorari to resolve conflicting appellate interpretations of an international agreement. 474 U. S. 1050 (1986).

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Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (Code), 26 U. S. C. § 170, permits a taxpayer to deduct from gross income the amount of a "charitable contribution." The Code defines that term as a "contribution or gift" to certain eligible donees, including entities organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes.[1] We granted certiorari to determine *684 whether taxpayers may deduct as charitable contributions payments made to branch churches of the Church of Scientology (Church) in order to receive services known as "auditing" and "training." We hold that such payments are not deductible.

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Arkansas' Gross Receipts Act imposed a sales tax on dozens of services, including the provision of cable television. The Act, however, exempted from taxation receipts from newspaper and magazine sales. The cable television industry in Arkansas brought suit challenging the Act, arguing that Arkansas could not constitutionally tax cable television when it was not taxing the print media. The trial court rejected this argument. While the case was on appeal, Arkansas amended the Act to tax all television and radio services. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision, stating that the First Amendment does not prohibit different taxation of different members of the media. The Arkansas Supreme Court, however, also held that the First Amendment does prohibit differential taxation among member of the same medium and therefore found that the Act was unconstitutional to the extent that it, before the amendment, taxed cable television differently from satellite television services. Differential taxation of speakers and publishers is constitutionally suspect when it threatens to suppress the expression of particular ideas or viewpoints. A tax also is suspect if it targets a small group of speakers. Moreover, a tax triggers heightened scrutiny if it discriminates among speakers based on the content of their speech.Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221 (1987); Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm'r of Revenue, 460 U.S. 575 (1983); Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233 (1936).

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