In 1927, Bob Jones founded an institution of higher learning which provided an environment conducive to learning for young Christian men and women. Initially the college was located in the state of Florida, but was eventually moved to its present location in Greenville, South Carolina. Bob Jones University, as it was aptly named, was incorporated as an “eleemosynary corporation” for the purpose of providing an alternative to the secular education which Mr. Jones believed was corrupt (Johnson 12). The universities’ articles of incorporation indicated that special emphasis would be placed on the Christian religion and the Bible. Bob Jones strongly believed that the “Bible forbade the “intermingling of the races”” (Johnson 13). As a consequence of his deplorable interpretation, Bob Jones University prohibited the enrollment of black students.
Racial desegregation in educational institutions started in 1954 when the United Stated Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that state laws which segregated public schools were unconstitutional. As a result of the ruling, private educational institutions began springing up throughout the southern states. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided troubles for private educational institutions which segregated students. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibited any institution which received federal funding from participating in discriminatory activities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 exasperated many white segregationists and precipitated a drastic increase in the number of private educational institutions (Johnson 5)
In 1970, the IRS decided that it would no longer provide tax exemptions to private educational institutions which engaged in racial discrimination or had policies which perpetuated such practices. On November 30, 1970 the IRS initiated an inquisition into BJU’s admission policies. In their response, BYU emphatically acknowledged that they did not admit blacks to the University nor would they change the policy (Johnson 13). And so the legal and tax exemption troubles began for BJU. For the next ten years, BJU and the IRS were engaged in a ferocious legal battle which included two Supreme Court Rulings. In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that BJU could not sue for an injunction to the revocation of their tax exemption by the IRS because no taxes had been collected from BJU. Afterwards, BJU fixed that problem by paying federal employment taxes on one employee in the amount of $21 and then requested a refund from the IRS on the basis of their tax exempt status. Expectantly, the IRS refused and thus gave BJU the grounds it needed to bring suit against the IRS for revocation of its tax-exempt status. So of course the IRS had to counter sue, and did they ever, to the amount of $490,000 for back taxes with interest that BJU had not paid since the revocation of its tax-exempt status. During the drawn out legal wrangling, BJU twice changed its admissions policies. The first change allowed the admission of any black staff member who had been employed by BJU in excess of four years. The second change extended admission to all blacks. BJU however continued to forbid interracial dating and marriage (Johnson 13).
On May 24, 1983, the U. S. Supreme Court finally decided the case of Bob Jones University v. United States. In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the IRS had statutory authority to deny tax exemptions to racially discriminatory religious schools. The Supreme Court ruled that the refusal of the U. S. Congress to intervene in the matter gave proof of their approval of the IRS’s revocation actions. The majority opinion, written by Justice Warren Burger, stated that no public benefit is conferred by a racially discriminatory private university. The Court also ruled that the IRS could revoke the tax exempt status of organizations which engaged in activities that contradict established public policy. As to the argument set forth by BJU that the revocation violated its First Amendment rights, the Court ruled that the governments’ interests far outweigh those of BJU’s. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the revocation of BJU’s tax-exempt status does not eliminate BJU’s ability to practice its beliefs. However, the ruling provides that the government does not have to subsidize such practices (Johnson 20).
Immediately following the Courts’ decision, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status to more than 100 private educational institutions. Meanwhile, Bob Jones III, who had succeeded his father Bob Jones Jr. as president of BJU, stated “We will never change beliefs that we base on the Word of God” (Johnson 25). Bob Jones III changed his position in March 2000 when he appeared on the Larry King Show and announced that BJU had changed its policy and now permitted interracial dating (Johnson 25). To this day and now under the leadership of Stephen Jones, great grandson of Bob Jones, BJU is not a tax-exempt university.
Johnson, Olati, "The Story of Bob Jones University v. United States: Race, Religion, and Congress’ Extraordinary Acquiescence". (2010). Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers. Paper 9184.
Bob Jones University. United States. 461 U.S. 574 (1983). United States Supreme Court. Web. 5.27.11.