Last updated on: 2/6/2013 | Author:

William O. Douglas, LLB Biography

Former US Supreme Court Associate Justice
Con to the question "Should Churches (Including Mosques, Synagogues, etc.) Remain Tax-Exempt?"

“If history be our guide, then tax exemption of church property in this country is indeed highly suspect, as it arose in the early days when the church was an agency of the state…

Churches, like newspapers also enjoying First Amendment rights, have no constitutional immunity from all taxes…

If believers are entitled to public financial support, so are nonbelievers. A believer and nonbeliever under the present law are treated differently because of the articles of their faith. Believers are doubtless comforted that the cause of religion is being fostered by this legislation. Yet one of the mandates of the First Amendment is to promote a viable, pluralistic society and to keep government neutral, not only between sects, but also between believers and nonbelievers. The present involvement of government in religion may seem de minimis [insignificant]. But it is, I fear, a long step down the Establishment path…

I conclude that this tax exemption is unconstitutional.”

Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York (dissenting opinion), May 4, 1970

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Associate Justice, US Supreme Court, Apr. 17, 1939-Nov. 12, 1975
  • Commissioner, US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1936-1939 (Chairman, 1937-1939)
  • Director, Protective Study Committee, US Securities and Exchange Commission, 1934-1936
  • Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School, 1928-1936
  • Assistant Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, 1926-1928
  • Private practice, New York City, 1925-1926
  • Attended Whitman College regiment of the Students’ Army Training Corps, Walla Walla, WA
  • LLB, Columbia Law School, 1925
  • AB, Whitman College, 1920
  • Died in Bethesda, MD, on Jan. 19, 1980 (buried at Arlington National Cemetary, VA)
  • Full name is William Orville Douglas
  • Record-holder for longest continuous service on the the US Supreme Court: 36 years, 6 months, and 25 days
  • Nickname: Wild Bill
  • Son of William Douglas (Presbyterian minister)
  • Born in Maine, MN, on Oct. 16, 1898
Quoted in:
Pro & Con Quotes: Should Churches (Including Mosques, Synagogues, etc.) Remain Tax-Exempt?