Coit v. Green
|We the People do ordain and establish this|
|Standards of review|
|Other legal theories|
|Defining moments in law|
Coit v. Green was the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education in which the United States Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a decision that rescinding the tax exemption of private schools is constitutional when those private schools practice racial discrimination.
In 1969, a group of African-American parents whose children were attending public schools in Mississippi filed suit to have the IRS revoke the tax-exempt status of private schools in Mississippi that excluded black students from enrolling. The argument is that either granting tax exempt status to such schools violated the IRS code or, if it is in accordance with the code, then that portion of the code was unconstitutional.
The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s after the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero.
In Green v. Kennedy (David Kennedy was secretary of the treasury at the time), decided in January 1970, the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction, which denied the “segregation academies” tax-exempt status until further review. In the meantime, the government was solidifying its position on such schools. Later that year, President Richard Nixon ordered the Internal Revenue Service to enact a new policy denying tax exemptions to all segregated schools in the United States. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act does not allow racial segregation and discrimination, which made discriminatory schools not “charitable” educational organizations, and therefore they had no claims to tax-exempt status; similarly, donations to such organizations would no longer be tax-deductible.
The United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the decision of Green v. Connally, which the lower court declared that neither IRC 501(c)(3) nor IRC 170 provided for tax-exempt status or deductible contributions to any organization operating a private school that discriminates in admissions on the basis of race. SCOTUS, however, specifically did not rule on the hypothetical possibility of a school which discriminated against minorities for religious reasons.
“”In some states, It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.
Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College argues that Paul Weyrich (one of the co-founders of the Heritage Foundation) used this opportunity to organize the Religious Right as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies.”
One such institution which became the battleground is Bob Jones University, which refused to admit black students until 1971. The argument is that since they receive no federal money (other than the taxes they hadn't paid), the gub'mint should not tell them how to operate, like who to hire or who to admit. The university did try to circumvent the IRS in their own ways: after the initial inquiries, they admitted one African American, a worker in its radio station, as a part-time student; he dropped out a month later. Until 1975 they only admitted married black couples, but not unmarried students. The IRS finally rescinded the school’s tax exemption on January 19, 1976.
When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration had considered and backed down from arguing in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. In 1983, Supreme Court upheld the right of the IRS to rescind the tax-exempt status of the University in Bob Jones University v. United States 461 U.S. 574 (1983).
The sole dissenter of the case was William Rehnquist, who got promoted to Chief Justice before Reagan left office.
- aka. Green v. Kennedy, 309 F. Supp. 1127 (DC 1970) and Green v. Connally, 330 F. Supp. 1150 (D.D.C.)
- Court Decisions on Religious Tax Exemptions: Coit v. Green
- The Real Origins of the Religious Right, Politico
- Bob Jones University v. U.S., Oyez