Florida’s Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit by a Wiccan organization against a state law that exempts Bibles, religious publications and ceremonial items from sales tax.
The Wiccan Religious Cooperative of Florida says it paid sales tax on the purchase of the “Satanic Bible” and the “Witch’s Bible Compleat,” but instead of seeking a refund, it filed suit claming Florida Statute 212.06(9) violates the Establishment Clause.
The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment says in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Orlando-based Liberty Counsel filed a brief in defense of the state law, arguing the Wiccan group has no standing to sue, because, even if the law were struck down, it would not receive the refund it claims is due.
The brief also contends the Florida exemption differs from the religious-publication exemption struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Texas Monthly v. Bullock.
The Texas law exempted Bibles and religious publications but not secular publications.
Liberty Counsel pointed out Florida law provides a wide array of exemptions for educational publications, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, promotional materials and works of art sold to or used by educational institutions.
The Orlando group insists the best U.S. Supreme Court precedent is Walz v. Tax Commissioner, in which the court upheld property tax exemptions for churches.
The brief notes Texas Monthly was a fractured opinion with no majority, the justices who voted to strike down the Texas law are no longer on the court and those who voted to uphold the law still remain on the court.
Liberty Counsel’s president and general counsel, Mathew D. Staver, contends the Wiccans are trying to “collapse the entire house on itself by seeking to eliminate all sales tax exemptions on Bibles and religious publications.”
The state law is constitutional, he insisted.
“Even if Florida’s law were questionable under one of the Supreme Court’s fractured prior opinions, which it is not, any attempt to tax religion will not be met with enthusiasm by a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court,” Staver said.
“In case the Wiccans haven’t been paying attention lately,” he added, “they should realize the times have changed. We have a new court.”