ATLANTA — A federal judge has struck down a decades-old state law that allowed sales tax-free Bible purchases.
The law, which was created in 1971, was struck down because it treated some religious and philosophical works more favorably than others, U.S. District Judge Richard Story ruled in Budlong v. Graham.
Story ruled on Feb. 6 that the "unique and preferential treatment the state provides to 'religious' literature raises serious constitutional concerns."
He cited the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Regan v. Time, Inc. that said laws that permit the government to discriminate on "the basis of the content of the message cannot be tolerated."
The law exempted from sales tax "Holy Bibles, testaments and similar books commonly recognized as being Holy Scripture."
It exempted purchases of works on Christianity and Judiasm. In past years, the state revenue department also suspended the sales tax for purchases of the Quran, the holy book of Islam.
The law also exempted taking sales tax from any purchase of a religious paper "when the paper is owned and operated by religious institutions and denominations."
The exemption dated back to the 1950s when Gov. Ernest Vandiver issued an executive order suspending the sales tax. Gov. Lester Maddox issued a similar order in 1970 and the Legislature approved it in 1971.
In November, the law was challenged by retired librarian Thomas Budlong and Candace Apple, the owner of Phoenix and Dragon — a Sandy Springs bookstore that specializes in the sale of metaphysical, religious and spiritual books.
Apple said yesterday that she did not file the lawsuit because she thought Bibles should be taxed.
"It just shouldn't get preferential treatment," she said. "Books concerning life and death, good and evil, even if they are not of a specific religious orientation, should qualify as books in the same category of the Scriptures. They are being used for the same purpose — to try and lead a better life."
But Sadie Fields, state chairman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, denounced the decision.
"It does not reflect the will of the people in Georgia. I think it's an outrage," she said. "I don't see any comparison between Scripture and some metaphysical nonsense."