LARSON V. VALENTE, 456 U. S. 228 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1982)

Larson v. Valente

No. 80-1666

Argued December 9, 1981

Decided April 21, 1982

456 U.S. 228


A section (§ 309.515, subd. 1(b)) of Minnesota's charitable solicitations Act provides that only those religious organizations that receive more than half of their total contributions from members or affiliated organizations are exempt from the registration and reporting requirements of the Act. The individual appellees, claiming to be followers of the tenets of appellee Unification Church (later joined as a plaintiff) brought suit in Federal District Court seeking a declaration that the statute, on its face and as applied to them, violated, inter alia, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and also seeking injunctive relief. After obtaining a preliminary injunction, appellees moved for summary judgment. Upon finding that the "overbreadth" doctrine gave appellees standing to challenge the statute, the Magistrate to whom the action had been transferred held that the application of the statute to religious organizations violated the Establishment Clause, and therefore recommended declaratory and permanent injunctive relief. The District Court, accepting this recommendation, entered summary judgment for appellees. The Court of Appeals affirmed on both the standing issue and on the merits. But the court, disagreeing with the District Court's conclusion that appellees and others should enjoy the religious organization exemption from the Act merely by claiming to be such organizations, held that proof of religious organization status was required in order to gain the exemption, and left the question of appellees' status "open . . . for further development." Accordingly, the court vacated the District Court's judgment and remanded for entry of a modified injunction and further proceedings.


1. Appellees have Art. III standing to raise their Establishment Clause claims. The State attempted to use § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule to compel the Unification Church to register and report under the Act. The fact that the fifty percent rule only applies to religious organizations compels the conclusion that, at least for purposes of this suit challenging that application, appellee Unification Church is a religious organization within the meaning of the Act. The controversy between

Page 456 U. S. 229

the parties is not rendered any less concrete by the fact that appellants, in the course of this litigation, have changed their position to contend that the Unification Church is not a religious organization within the meaning of the Act, and that therefore it would not be entitled to an exemption under § 309.515, subd. 1(b) even if the fifty percent rule were declared unconstitutional. This is so because the threatened application of § 309.515, subd. 1(b), and its fifty percent rule to appellees amounts to a distinct and palpable injury to them, in that it disables them from soliciting contributions in Minnesota unless they comply with the registration and reporting requirements of the Act. Moreover, there is a causal connection between the claimed injury and the challenged conduct. The fact that appellees have not yet shown an entitlement to a permanent injunction barring the State from subjecting them to the Act's registration and reporting requirements does not detract from the palpability of the particular and discrete injury caused to appellees. Pp. 456 U. S. 238-244.

2. Section 309.515, subd. 1(b), in setting up precisely the sort of official denominational preference forbidden by the First Amendment, violates the Establishment Clause. Pp. 456 U. S. 244-255.

(a) Since the challenged statute grants denominational preferences, it must be treated as suspect, and strict scrutiny must be applied in adjudging its constitutionality. Pp. 456 U. S. 244-246.

(b) Assuming, arguendo, that appellants' asserted interest in preventing fraudulent solicitations is a "compelling" interest, appellants have nevertheless failed to demonstrate that § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule is "closely fitted" to that interest. Appellants' argument to the contrary is based on three premises: (1) that members of a religious organization can and will exercise supervision and control over the solicitation activities of the organization when membership contributions exceed fifty percent; (2) that membership control, assuming its existence, is an adequate safeguard against abusive solicitations of the public; and (3) that the need for public disclosure rises in proportion with the percentage of nonmember contributions. There is no substantial support in the record for any of these premises. Pp. 456 U. S. 246-251.

(c) Where the principal effect of § 309.515, subd. 1(b)'s fifty percent rule is to impose the Act's registration and reporting requirements on some religious organizations but not on others, the "risk of politicizing religion" inhering in the statute is obvious. Pp. 456 U. S. 251-255.

637 F.2d 562, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 456 U. S. 256. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in

Page 456 U. S. 230

which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 258. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 264.

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