Lawyers for two fundamentalist Christian schools that preach separation of the races urged the Supreme Court to find that only Congress can take away tax exemptions because of discrimination.
In oral arguments before the court, attorneys for Bob Jones University of Greenville, S.C., and Goldsboro (N.C.) Christian Schools did not defend the schools' discriminatory policies. But they argued that the Internal Revenue Service cannot make its own political decisions to deny tax-exempt status to institutions that practice racial discrimination.
The reasoning is the same voiced by the Reagan administration, which upset civil rights groups in January by reversing a 12-year-old IRS policy of denying tax breaks to private schools that discriminate by race.
A Reagan administration spokesman said the White House opposes discrimination but believes the IRS overstepped its powers. A decision is not expected until next spring.
In other action, the Supreme Court:
* Agreed to consider whether a person is protected against unreasonable search and seizure if a package is delivered to him after customs inspectors discover it contains illicit drugs.
* Decided to consider whether federal antidiscrimination law is violated by the use of statistics that favor men in Arizona's deferred compensation plan for state employees.
* Spurned a plea from a giant chemical company trying to stop legal action over its requirement that some of its women employees be sterilized or lose their jobs.
* Let stand a ruling upholding a reporter's right under some circumstances to refuse to turn over notes that disclose sources.