ACLU Praises Decision To Overturn Georgia Tax Exemption For Certain Religious Texts

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
May 18, 2007 12:00 am

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ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia today praised a decision by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia striking down two state sales and use tax exemptions. The provisions that were overturned Thursday applied only to certain religious texts and the court ruled that they were discriminatory on the basis of the content of the speech.

“The state should not be in the business of picking and choosing which religious groups and texts get a special tax exemption,” said ACLU of Georgia staff counsel Maggie Garrett. “The First Amendment guarantees that we are all allowed to express our views and that the government can’t tax the views it disagrees with, but give tax breaks to those it likes.”

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of Candace Apple, owner of the Phoenix & Dragon bookstore, and Thomas Budlong, a customer. Apple and Budlong objected to the Georgia law because it only applied to certain religious literature. For example, when Budlong purchased the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, he was taxed.
In response to the court decision, Apple stated, “I am glad that the government will now treat all of my customers the same, regardless of whether they are buying scripture from a well-recognized religion, sacred texts from a lesser known religion, or philosophy texts to guide their lives.”

Budlong added, “I’m very happy that the First Amendment won out and the state will now treat all printed materials the same.”

The provisions in question were O.C.G.A. §§ 48-8-3(16), which granted tax exemptions for “Holy Bibles, testaments, and similar books commonly recognized as Holy Scripture,” and (15)(a), which granted exemptions for “religious papers” when owned by religious institutions. The District Court explained that “both exemptions express a governmental preference for organized religious expression over spiritual, philosophical, agnostic, atheistic, and other forms of self expression.”

In 1989, the United States Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical statute in Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock. Since then, federal appellate courts and state supreme courts in North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have followed suit.
A copy of the court order can be found online at:

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