Establishment Clause: Everson v. Board of Ed (1947): Facts of the Case



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First Amendment Court Cases:


Establishment Clause:
Everson v. Board of Ed (1947):
Facts of the Case: 

A New Jersey law allowed reimbursements of money to parents who sent their children to school on buses operated by the public transportation system. Children who attended Catholic schools also qualified for this transportation subsidy.



Question: 

Did the New Jersey statute violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment?



Conclusion: 

No. A divided Court held that the law did not violate the Constitution. After detailing the history and importance of the Establishment Clause, Justice Black argued that services like bussing and police and fire protection for parochial schools are "separate and so indisputably marked off from the religious function" that for the state to provide them would not violate the First Amendment. The law did not pay money to parochial schools, nor did it support them directly in anyway. It was simply a law enacted as a "general program" to assist parents of all religions with getting their children to school.



Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971):
Facts of the Case: 

This case was heard concurrently with two others, Earley v. DiCenso (1971) and Robinson v. DiCenso (1971). The cases involved controversies over laws in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In Pennsylvania, a statute provided financial support for teacher salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials for secular subjects to non-public schools. The Rhode Island statute provided direct supplemental salary payments to teachers in non-public elementary schools. Each statute made aid available to "church-related educational institutions."



Question: 

Did the Rhode Island and Pennsylvania statutes violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by making state financial aid available to "church- related educational institutions"?



Conclusion: 

Yes. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger articulated a three-part test for laws dealing with religious establishment. To be constitutional, a statute must have "a secular legislative purpose," it must have principal effects which neither advance nor inhibit religion, and it must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion." The Court found that the subsidization of parochial schools furthered a process of religious inculcation, and that the "continuing state surveillance" necessary to enforce the specific provisions of the laws would inevitably entangle the state in religious affairs. The Court also noted the presence of an unhealthy "divisive political potential" concerning legislation which appropriates support to religious schools.



Decisions

Decision: 8 votes for Lemon, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion


Aguilar v. Felton (1985):
Facts of the Case: 

Part of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 authorized local institutions to receive funds to assist educationally deprived children from low-income families. Since 1966, New York City had used portions of its Title I funding to pay salaries of employees who teach in parochial schools.



Question: 

Did New York City's decision to use Title I funds to pay salaries of parochial school teachers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?



Conclusion: 

Yes. Even though the Court acknowledged that the efforts of the City of New York were well-intentioned, it found that the funding practices violated the Constitution. As part of New York's program, teachers were directed to avoid involvement in religious materials and activities in their classrooms. This, as well as the actions of school administrators and field supervisors who monitored classroom activities for religious content, posed constitutional problems for the majority. Involving agents of the city in extensive monitoring increased the potential for "divisiveness along religious lines" and violated the intent of the Establishment Clause which is to prevent the intrusion of church and state on each other's respective domain.



Decisions

Decision: 5 votes for Felton, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion


Agostini v. Felton (1997):
Facts of the Case: 

This suit was brought by a New York parochial school board, and some of its student's parents, as a challenge to a District Court ruling upholding the twelve-year-old decision set out in Aguilar v. Felton (473 US 402). The decision in Aguilar prohibited public school teachers from teaching in parochial schools as a violation of the Establishment Clause. On appeal from the Second Circuit's affirmance of a District Court's denial of the parent's challenge, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.



Question: 

Is the Establishment Clause violated when public school teachers instruct in parochial schools?



Conclusion: 

No. The Court overruled its decision in Aguilar v. Felton. The Court held that there was no evidence to support its former presumption that the entrance of public school teachers into parochial schools will inevitably lead to the indoctrination of state-sponsored religion. The New York program under which public school teachers were sent into parochial schools did not provide parochial schools with any incentive, financial or other, to establish religion in order to attract public school teachers. The Court added that under its new view, only those policies which generate an excessive conflict between church and state will be deemed to violate the Establishment Clause. As such, one should no longer find that all entanglements between church and state have a distinctly positive or negative impact on religion.



Decisions

Decision: 5 votes for Agostini, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris(2002)
Facts of the Case: 

Ohio's Pilot Project Scholarship Program provides tuition aid in the form of vouchers for certain students in the Cleveland City School District to attend participating public or private schools of their parent's choosing. Both religious and nonreligious schools in the district may participate. Tuition aid is distributed to parents according to financial need, and where the aid is spent depends solely upon where parents choose to enroll their children. In the 1999-2000 school year 82 percent of the participating private schools had a religious affiliation and 96 percent of the students participating in the scholarship program were enrolled in religiously affiliated schools. Sixty percent of the students were from families at or below the poverty line. A group of Ohio taxpayers sought to enjoin the program on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause. The District Court granted them summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.



Question: 

Does Ohio's school voucher program violate the Establishment Clause?



Conclusion: 

No. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court held that the program does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court reasoned that, because Ohio's program is part of Ohio's general undertaking to provide educational opportunities to children, government aid reaches religious institutions only by way of the deliberate choices of numerous individual recipients and the incidental advancement of a religious mission, or any perceived endorsement, is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that the "Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion. It provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice."



Decisions

Decision: 5 votes for Zelman, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion


Engel v. Vitale(1962):
Facts of the Case: 

The Board of Regents for the State of New York authorized a short, voluntary prayer for recitation at the start of each school day. This was an attempt to defuse the politically potent issue by taking it out of the hands of local communities. The blandest of invocations read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country."



Question: 

Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?



Conclusion: 

Yes. Neither the prayer's nondenominational character nor its voluntary character saves it from unconstitutionality. By providing the prayer, New York officially approved religion. This was the first in a series of cases in which the Court used the establishment clause to eliminate religious activities of all sorts, which had traditionally been a part of public ceremonies. Despite the passage of time, the decision is still unpopular with a majority of Americans.



Decisions

Decision: 6 votes for Engel, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

Wallace v. Jaffree (1992):
Facts of the Case: 

An Alabama law authorized teachers to conduct regular religious prayer services and activities in school classrooms during the school day. Three of Jaffree's children attended public schools in Mobile.



Question: 

Did Alabama law violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause?



Conclusion: 

Yes. The Court determined the constitutionality of Alabama's prayer and meditation statute by applying the secular purpose test, which asked if the state's actual purpose was to endorse or disapprove of religion. The Court held that Alabama's passage of the prayer and meditation statute was not only a deviation from the state's duty to maintain absolute neutrality toward religion, but was an affirmative endorsement of religion. As such, the statute clearly lacked any secular purpose as it sought to establish religion in public schools, thereby violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.



Decisions

Decision: 6 votes for Jaffree, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion


Santa Fe v. Doe (2000):
Facts of the Case: 

Prior to 1995, a student elected as Santa Fe High School's student council chaplain delivered a prayer, described as overtly Christian, over the public address system before each home varsity football game. One Mormon and one Catholic family filed suit challenging this practice and others under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The District Court enjoined the public Santa Fe Independent School District (the District) from implementing its policy as it stood. While the suit was pending, the District adopted a new policy, which permitted, but did not require, student-initiated and student- led prayer at all the home games and which authorized two student elections, the first to determine whether "invocations" should be delivered at games, and the second to select the spokesperson to deliver them. After the students authorized such prayers and selected a spokesperson, the District Court entered an order modifying the policy to permit only nonsectarian, nonproselytizing prayer. The Court of Appeals held that, even as modified by the District Court, the football prayer policy was invalid. The District petitioned for a writ of certiorari, claiming its policy did not violate the Establishment Clause because the football game messages were private student speech, not public speech.



Question: 

Does the Santa Fe Independent School District's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?



Conclusion: 

Yes. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the District's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause. The Court concluded that the football game prayers were public speech authorized by a government policy and taking place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events and that the District's policy involved both perceived and actual government endorsement of the delivery of prayer at important school events. Such speech is not properly characterized as "private," wrote Justice Stevens for the majority. In dissent, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, noted the "disturbing" tone of the Court's opinion that "bristle[d] with hostility to all things religious in public life."



Decisions

Decision: 6 votes for Doe, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion
Epperson v. Arkansas (1968):
Facts of the Case: 

The Arkansas legislature passed a law prohibiting teachers in public or state- supported schools from teaching, or using textbooks that teach, human evolution. Epperson, a public school teacher, sued, claiming the law violated her First Amendment right to free speech as well as the Establishment Clause. The State Chancery Court ruled that it violated his free speech rights; the State Supreme Court reversed.



Question: 

Does a law forbidding the teaching of evolution violate either the free speech rights of teachers or the Establishment clause of the First Amendment?



Conclusion: 

Yes. Seven members of the Court held that the statute violated the Establishment clause. Writing for the Court, Justice Abe Fortas stated that the law had been based solely on the beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, who felt that evolutionary theories directly contradicted the biblical account of Creation. This use of state power to prohibit the teaching of material objectionable to a particular sect ammounted to an unconstitutional Establishment of religion. Justice Fortas wrote, "The State's undoubted right to prescribe the curriculum for its public schools does not carry with it the right to prohibit, on pain of criminal penalty, the teaching of a scientific theory or doctrine where that prohibition is based upon reasons that violate the First Amendment." The two other members of the Court concurred in the result, writing that it violated either the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment (because it was unconstitutionally vague) or the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.



Decisions

Decision: 9 votes for Epperson, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion


Edwards v. Aguillard (1987):
Facts of the Case: 

A Louisiana law entitled the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act" prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in the public schools unless that instruction was accompanied by the teaching of creation science, a Biblical belief that advanced forms of life appeared abruptly on Earth. Schools were not forced to teach creation science. However, if either topic was to be addressed, evolution or creation, teachers were obligated to discuss the other as well.



Question: 

Did the Louisiana law, which mandated the teaching of "creation science" along with the theory of evolution, violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment?



Conclusion: 

Yes. The Court held that the law violated the Constitution. Using the three- pronged test that the Court had developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) to evaluate potential violations of the Establishment Clause, Justice Brennan argued that Louisiana's law failed on all three prongs of the test. First, it was not enacted to further a clear secular purpose. Second, the primary effect of the law was to advance the viewpoint that a "supernatural being created humankind," a doctrine central to the dogmas of certain religious denominations. Third, the law significantly entangled the interests of church and state by seeking "the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose."



Decisions

Decision: 7 votes for Aguillard, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

Board of Ed. V. Mergens (1990):
Facts of the Case: 

The school administration at Westside High School denied permission to a group of students to form a Christian club with the same privileges and meeting terms as other Westside after-school student clubs. In addition to citing the Establishment Clause, Westside refused the club's formation because it lacked a faculty sponsor. When the school board upheld the administration's denial, Mergens and several other students sued. The students alleged that Westside's refusal violated the Equal Access Act, which requiremes that schools in receipt of federal funds provide "equal access" to student groups seeking to express "religious, political, philosophical, or other content" messages. On appeal from an adverse District Court ruling, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the students. The Supreme Court granted Westside certiorari.



Question: 

Was Westside's prohibition against the formation of a Christian club consistent with the Establishment Clause, thereby rendering the Equal Access Act unconstitutional?



Conclusion: 

No. In distinguishing between "curriculum" and "noncurriculum student groups," the Court held that since Westside permitted other noncurricular clubs, it was prohibited under the Equal Access Act from denying equal access to any after- school club based on the content of its speech. The proposed Christian club would be a noncurriculum group since no other course required students to become its members, its subject matter would not actually be taught in classes, it did not concern the school's cumulative body of courses, and its members would not receive academic credit for their participation. The Court added that the Equal Access Act was constitutional because it served an overriding secular purpose by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of philosophical, political, or other types of speech. As such, the Act protected the Christian club's formation even if its members engaged in religious discussions.



Decisions

Decision: 8 votes for Mergens, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 20 U.S.C. 4071


Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District (1993):
Facts of the Case: 

A New York law authorized schools to regulate the after-hour use of school property and facilities. The Center Moriches School District, acting under the statute, prohibited the use of its property by any religious group. The District refused repeated requests by Lamb's Chapel to use the school's facilities for an after-hours religious-oriented film series on family values and child rearing. The Chapel brought suit against the School District in federal court.



Question: 

Did the District violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech when it denied Lamb's Chapel the use of school premises to show religious-oriented films?



Conclusion

Yes, by a unaminous vote. The Supreme Court's holding consisted of two parts. First, the District violated freedom of speech by refusing the Chapel's request to show movies on school premises solely because such movies were religiously oriented. While non-public schools are permitted under New York law to restrict access to their premises based on subject matter or speaker identity, such restrictions must be reasonable and "viewpoint neutral." In this case, the District's restriction was neither reasonable nor viewpoint neutral, since it allowed the presentation of all other views about family values and child rearing - except those which were presented from a religious perspective. Second, a grant of permission to the Chapel to use the District's premises would not have amounted to an establishment of religion. This is because the showing of the films would neither be school-sponsored during school hours nor closed to the public.



Decisions

Decision: 9 votes for Lamb's Chapel, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Good News Club v. Milford Central School (2001):

Facts of the Case: 

Under New York law, Milford Central School policy authorizes district residents to use its building after school for certain activities. Stephen and Darleen Fournier were district residents eligible to use the school's facilities. They sought approval of their proposed use and sponsorship of the Good News Club, a private Christian organization for children. The Fourniers submitted a request to hold the Club's weekly afterschool meetings at the school. Milford denied the request reasoning that the proposed use, including singing songs, hearing Bible lessons, memorizing scripture, and praying, was the equivalent of religious worship prohibited by the community use policy. The Club filed suit alleging that the denial violated its free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, the District Court granted Milford summary judgment. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that because the subject matter of the Club's was "quintessentially religious", and the activities "fall outside the bounds of pure 'moral and character development,'" Milford's policy of excluding the Club's meetings was constitutional subject discrimination, not unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.



Question: 

Did Milford Central School violate the First Amendment free speech rights of the Good News Club when it excluded the Club from meeting after hours at the school? If a violation occurred, was it justified by Milford's concern that permitting the Club's activities would violate the Establishment Clause?



Conclusion: 

Yes and no. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that "Milford's restriction violates the Club's free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation." "When Milford denied the Good News Club access to the school's limited public forum on the ground that the Club was religious in nature, it discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment," wrote Justice Thomas.



Decisions

Decision: 6 votes for Good News Club, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly


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