The Words of the Pople Family

Landmark High Court Decisions Vindicate Our Church

Joy Pople
June 1982

Already this year, three major high court decisions have been made in favor of the Unification Church, and these breakthroughs should help other churches as well as our own. Men and women who "don't think much, don't read much, don't know much" -- according to the judge who selected them -- decided that Father and Mr. Kamiyama were guilty of tax charges. This grieves us. But top judicial minds in the U.S. Supreme Court and in the highest court in the State of New York have handed down landmark opinions which are legal precedents that will affect other cases, reaffirming our right to exist and carry out our activities.

Vindication of our religious purpose

"Moon church gets court tax blessing," the Daily News announced on May 7, 1982, following the unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals of the State of New York affirming our Church's right to property tax exemption as a religious organization.

Exemption from local property tax was applied for shortly after our church bought three properties in New York City in 1976. The application was rejected by the local tax commission, which asserted that our Church was not organized for religious purposes. After many appeals and five years of legal battles, the highest court in the state of New York has now ruled that the government cannot pry into church teachings in search of "political" or "economic" activities disguised as dogma. A wide range of religious groups filed friend of the court briefs in support of our appeal.

The decision could be worth several million dollars in tax breaks for our Church in New York City, and will probably be useful as a precedent in obtaining tax exemption on other properties. The Tax Commission will have to re-decide our application for tax exemption on the basis of how the properties will be used, not on the basis of whether we are a church or not.

The Daily News further stated that the ruling "provides a psychological boost" for our Church. Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard University, a renowned constitutional lawyer who argued the case on our behalf, commented that in American history rarely have the courts ever so death indicated that a group was indeed a religious organization.

The following are excerpts from the unusually clearly-written opinion.

In determining whether a particular ecclesiastical body has been organized and is conducted exclusively for religious purposes, the courts may not inquire into or classify the content of the doctrine, dogmas, and teachings held by that body to be integral to its religion but must accept that body's characterization of its own beliefs and activities and those of its adherents, so long as that characterization is made in good faith and is not sham. On this principle it must be concluded that the Unification Church has religion as its "primary" purpose inasmuch as much of its doctrine, dogmas and teachings and a significant part of its activities are recognized as religious, and in good faith it classifies as religious the beliefs and activities which the Tax Commission and the court below have described as political and economic.

The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity [the Church] is one of more than 120 national Unification Churches throughout the world propagating a common religious message under the spiritual guidance of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Unification movement's founder and prophet. The Church was organized as a California nonprofit corporation in 1961, and since 1975 has maintained its headquarters in New York City.

In March 1976 the Church applied to the Tax Commission of the City of New York for exemption from real property taxes for the tax year beginning July 1, 1976 of three properties title to which it had acquired in 1975. The three properties are: the Church Headquarters, located at 4 West 43rd Street in the Borough of Manhattan; the Missionary Residence located at 305 West 107th Street in Manhattan; and the Maintenance and Storage Facility, located at 38-38 Ninth Street in the Borough of Queens. Following hearings, the Tax Commission on September 21, 1977, by a vote of 4 to 3 denied the application. The majority concluded that, "although the applicant association does in certain respects bespeak of a religious association, it is in our opinion so threaded with political motives that it requires us to deny its application." Having concluded that the Church was not organized or conducted exclusively for religious purposes, the majority of the Commission had no occasion to consider whether the three properties were used exclusively for religious purposes. The dissenting members of the Tax Commission, explicitly declining to judge the validity or content of the religious beliefs of the Church or its adherents or to submit the Church's theology to analysis, concluded that the Church was organized exclusively for religious purposes and that the three properties in question were used exclusively for statutory purposes. The dissenters would therefore have granted the application.

The Church then instituted the present proceeding for judgment annulling the determination of the Commission, directing that the Church's application be granted, and declaring that the three properties are entitled to tax exemption....

It is appropriate at the threshold to delineate our holding in this case -- to make explicit what we are not as well as what we are called on to decide. We are not called on to determine whether the Church has any real religious purpose or whether any of its doctrine, dogmas, and teachings constitute a religion. In this case it is recognized that at least many of the beliefs and a significant part of the activities of the Church are religious and that the Unification movement at least in part is a religion. The determination of the Tax Commission, the report of the Special Referee [appointed by the court], the opinion at the Appellate Division and now the arguments of the Tax Commission in our Court all, at least implicitly, accept this proposition.

The issue that we confront is a narrower one -- is the Church, many of whose beliefs and activities are religious, organized and conducted primarily for religious purposes within the contemplation of section 421, subdivision 1, paragraph (a)? This, as understood by the Tax Commission and the Appellate Division, turns on whether the Church is engaged in so mangy or such significant non-religious activities as to warrant the conclusion that its purpose is not primarily religious. More specifically the issue is whether the activities which have been found to be "political" and "economic" are for the purpose of that statute to be classified as secular rather than religious.

When, as here, particular purposes and activities of a religious organization are claimed to be other than religious, the civil authorities may engage in but two inquiries: does the religious organization assert that the challenged purposes and activities are religious, and is that assertion bona fide? Neither the courts nor the administrative agencies of the State or its subdivisions may go behind the declared content of religious beliefs any more than they may examine into their validity. This principle was firmly established in Watson v. Jones when the Supreme Court declared that "the law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect."...

We turn then to the first avenue of inquiry allowed us, namely, whether the Church asserts that its religious doctrine and teachings embrace the challenged activities. We quote the statement with respect to the history and doctrine, dogmas and teachings of the Church from the brief of the Church in our Court (without its footnote references to sources in the record).

The Unification movement has its origins in Korea as one of the host of revivalist Christian religions that flourished there in the aftermath of the forty-year Japanese occupation (1905-1945), during which Korean religions were suppressed. Common to many of these new, patriotic religions was the theme of Korea as the modern Holy Land, birthplace of the new Messiah. This theme likewise animates the religion founded by the Reverend Moon.

Unification theology is based on the teachings of the Old and New Testaments as clarified by revelations held to have been received by the Reverend Moon directly from Jesus Christ beginning in 1936, and subsequently recorded by his followers in the book Divine Principle. Central to Divine Principle is the millenialist conviction that the time has come for the forces of God to reclaim the earth from the forces of Satan, and to restore "the Kingdom of God on earth."

According to Unification theology, the "great promise of Christianity" is "the return of Christ" -- "not as a visiting God but as a sinless man" -- to complete the work Jesus began 2,000 years ago. Unification faith holds that "when Jesus came he was the Messiah," the perfect image of God. Through the Resurrection, the Church believes, Jesus brought "spiritual salvation," but the physical institutions of this world -- beginning with the family -- remained unredeemed; in the Church's view, it is for the new Messiah to restore a Bride and establish the True Family serving as the foundation for ending "the existence of evil in the world," and to accomplish "not only spiritual but also physical" salvation for mankind. Adherents of the Unification faith look to the Reverend Moon to accomplish this task.

In Unification doctrine, every temporal sphere -- political, cultural, and economic -- is a battleground for the forces of God and the forces of Satan. God-denying Communism is deemed a singularly potent evil, threatening to overwhelm the forces of God just as Cain overwhelmed Abel; the division between North and South Korea is seen as a central providential instance of the struggle between the sons of Adam. Other temporal controversies also assume crucial spiritual significance in Unification theology.

Committed to the view that men and women need no "mediator between themselves and God," Unification faith makes no provision for a "priestly class." All members of the Church, for example, are qualified to conduct prayer services and other religious activities.... Representing a movement that proclaims an urgent millenialist gospel, the Church appeals primarily, but not exclusively, to the young.

There can be no doubt on the record before us that the Church has amply demonstrated that it does indeed assert that those beliefs and activities which the Tax Commission and the Appellate Division have found to be political and economic are of the essence of its religious doctrine and program. This has been the finding at every stage of this matter. The Special Referee reported that "the petitioner's theological doctrines bind petitioner to a course of political activism," that "petitioner believes that the physical world consisting of science and economics as well as the spiritual world consisting of religion have developed in accordance with 'God's providence' and that 'religion and economy relate to social life through politics"'....

We conclude that it has been sufficiently demonstrated that what have been characterized below as political and economic beliefs and activities are in the view of the Church integral aspects of its religious doctrine and program....

The error of the majority of the Tax Commission, of the Special Referee and of the majority of the Appellate Division is that each asserted the right of civil authorities to examine the creed and theology of the Church and to factor out what in its or his considered judgment are the peripheral political and economic aspects, in contradistinction to what was acknowledged to be the essentially religious component. Each then took the view that beliefs and activities which could be objectively accurately described by knowledgeable outsiders as "political" and "economic" were by that fact precluded from being classified as "religious."

As stated, it is not the province of civil authorities to indulge in such distillation as to what is to be denominated religious and what political or economic. It is for religious bodies themselves, rather than the courts or administrative agencies, to define, by their teachings and activities, what their religion is. The courts are obliged to accept such characterization of the activities of such bodies, including that of the Church in the case before us, unless it is found to be insincere or sham.

Applying this principle, we conclude that on the record before us, as a matter of law, the primary purpose of the Church (much of whose doctrine, dogmas and teachings and a significant part of whose activities are recognized as religious) is religious and that the determination of the Tax Commission to the contrary is both arbitrary and capricious and affected by error of law.

Striking down denominational bias

In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the Unification Church and other new religious groups, by striking down a law which would have required religious groups which obtained more than half of their money by soliciting funds from the public, to disclose the sources of their funding. This law was enacted in 1978 in Minnesota, home state of former U.S. Congressman Donald Fraser.

This significant case is a landmark in Church/State litigation in that it reaffirms the basic constitutional premise that the state may not discriminate against newly-established religions in its regulatory processes.

In its decision, the Supreme Court wrote:

"This [attempt of the State of Minnesota] is precisely the sort of official denominational preference forbidden by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, violating the Establishment Clause."

A member of our Church in Minnesota, Pamela Valenti, challenged a rigorous and complicated state law regulating churches, but which in effect regulates some churches and not all churches. When the state asked our church to register under the Act, we challenged the law in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota and won a preliminary injunction which allowed us to continue fundraising activities for the time being without filing a report. We argued that we are in fact a religion and our solicitation activities are part of our religious practice. The state denied that solicitations bore any substantial relationship to religious expression and argued that we could not challenge the Act unless we proved that we were in fact a church.

Before the Supreme Court the state of Minnesota argued that our Church was not a religion and so we first had to demonstrate that we deserve constitutional protection. However, the irony of the state first harassing us as a church and then arguing that we were not a church was not lost on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded that since the state attempted to force our Church to register under the Act, that implied recognition of our Church as a religious organization.

Writing for the majority, Justice William Brannan declared that Minnesota's "fifty percent rule" creates an "official denominational preference" that directly conflicts with First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom, and that the provision was "drafted with the explicit intention of including particular religious denominations and excluding others." The justices concluded that states could not force newer non-traditional religious organizations to open up their financial records to government audits, while failing to monitor more established religions.

Note to the Moons from ICUS XI Leaders

"Dear Reverend and Mrs. Moon,

We, chairman and advisors of ICUS XI, want to express our concern and sadness at the events of this week, and send our personal best wishes for your ultimate vindication. It feels most appropriate that we make our expression of support and good will concrete by reaffirming our commitment to the ideals embodied in the ICUS program.

You and your family will be in our thoughts until we meet again in Philadelphia in November."

Morton A. Kaplan
Richard L. Rubenstein
Karl H. Pribram
Kenneth Mellanby
Frederick Seitz
Frederick Sontag
Marcelo Alonso
William W Bartley
Rene Berger
Ilpyong T. Kim
Diane McGuinness
Elizabeth Rauscher
Elliott P. Skinner
Joseph Silverman
Mangalam Srinivasan
Roger Wescott 

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