Kupau v. Richards (Haw. 1879): Mormon Minister Entitled to Tax Exemptions for Christian Clergymen

Holding: A Mormon minister is entitled to tax exemptions under § 513 of the 1859 Hawaii Civil Code, which exempts “all clergymen of any Christian denomination regularly engaged in their vocation” from the obligation of paying personal taxes.

Procedural posture: Tax collector filed for assumpsit (a common law action brought to recover damages for an alleged breach of contract) to recover defendant’s personal taxes in the District Court of Koolauloa, HI. The Court, sitting without a jury, found for defendant. Plaintiff appealed. Islamic law is not relevant, except that the defendant testified he is not “a Mohammedan” and does not “accept the Koran,” and that the Court noted that “Mohammedanism” is one of the four “grand systems” of the religious world.

Judgment: Judgment for the defendant, in an opinion authored by Judge McCully.

Facts: Defendant Henry Richards was a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) who was sent as a missionary to Hawaii. At trial, to determine whether he qualified as a “Christian clergyman” exempt from personal taxes under § 513 of the 1859 Hawaii Civil Code, Richards testified as to his religious beliefs. They included belief in, inter alia, baptism, the Gospels, revelation, polygamy, the atonement of Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the Book of Mormon. The Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii found that, because the defendant believed in Christ and accepted the Old and New Testament, he was a Christian clergyman for tax purposes. The Court addressed the concern that Mormons have more scriptures than the Bible by stating that the Roman Catholic Church has accepted revelation and papal infallibility, but is still considered Christian. Furthermore, the Court concluded that because Richards did not himself practice or preach polygamy in Hawaii, his belief was not grounds for excluding him from being a Christian minister. Therefore, the Court concluded that, as a Mormon minister, Richards qualified for the personal tax exemption given to Christian ministers.

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