Excerpts from the majority opinion of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger in Bob Jones University vs. United States:
A declaration that a given institution is not "charitable" should be made only where there can be no doubt that the activity involved is contrary to a fundamental public policy. . . .
Prior to 1954, public education in many places still was conducted under the pall of Plessy vs. Ferguson; racial segregation in primary and secondary education prevailed in many parts of the country. This court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education signaled an end to that era.Over the past quarter of a century, every pronouncement of this court and myriad acts of Congress and executive orders attest a firm national policy to prohibit racial segregation and discrimination in public education. . . .
Few social or political issues in our history have been more vigorously debated and more extensively ventilated than the issue of racial discrimination, particularly in education. Given the stress and anguish of the history of efforts to escape from the shackles of the "separate-but-equal" doctrine of Plessy vs. Ferguson, supra, it cannot be said that educational institutions that, for whatever reasons, practice racial discrimination are institutions exercising "beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life," . . . or should be encouraged by having all taxpayers share in their support by way of special tax status. . . .
It would be wholly incompatible with the concepts underlying tax exemption to grant the benefit of tax-exempt status to racial discriminatory educational entities. . . . Whatever may be the rationale for such private schools' policies, and however sincere the rationale may be, racial discrimination in education is contrary to public policy. . . .
Congress has seen fit to vest in those administering the tax laws very broad authority to interpret those laws. In an area as complex as the tax system, the agency. Congress vests with administrative responsibility must be able to exercise its authority to meet changing conditions and new problems. . . .
The government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education -- discrimination that prevailed, with official approval, for the first 165 years of this nation's history. The governmental interest substantially outweights whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners' exercise of their religious beliefs. . . .
Excerpts from the concurring opinion of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.:
With all respect, I am unconvinced that the critical question in determining tax-exempt status is whether an individual organization provides a clear "public benefit" as defined by the court. Over 106,000 organizations [obtained tax-exempt status] in 1981. . . . I find it impossible to believe that all or even most of those organizations could prove that they "demonstrably serve and [are] in harmony with the public interest" or that they are "beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life. . . ."
In this case I agree with the court that Congress has determined that the policy against racial discrimination in education should override the countervailing interest in permitting unorthodox private behavior. I would emphasize, however, that the balancing of these substantial interests is for Congress to perform. . . .
There no longer is any justification for Congress to hesitate -- as it apparently has --- in articulating and codifying its desired policy as to tax exemptions for discriminary organizations. . . .
It is not appropriate to leave the IRS "on the cutting edge of developing national policy." The contours of public policy should be determined by Congress, not by judges or the IRS.
Excerpts from the dissenting opinion of Justice William H. Rehnquist:
The court points out that there is a strongly national policy in this country against facial discrimination. To the extent that the court states that Congress in furtherance of this policy could deny tax-exempt satus to educational institutions that promote racial discrimination, I readily agree. But, unlike the court, I am convinced that Congress simply has failed to take this action. . . .