The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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A table of important Establishment Clause cases dealing with religion and education: 1978 to present.

The following table references Supreme Court cases dealing with religion and education. Cases are arranged by date.

Table compiled by Susan Batte


Note: in the final column, "S" designates a ruling favoring separationism, "A" designates a ruling favoring a non-preferentialist or accomodationist position, and "N" designates a neutral ruling.

Date Case Vote Issue Raised Holding/Rationale S/P/N
1980 Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U.S. 646 - The state plan for funding the grading of state-prepared tests in this case differs from Wolman in that parochial school teachers graded the tests and the funding was paid directly to the parochial school. 5:4 Is the payment of state funding to parochial schools and the use of parochial school personnel to grade state-prepared tests a violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court followed Wolman and after applying the three-part Lemon test found the funding plan to be constitutional. The Court held that the following costs were reimbursable: proportionate shares of teachers' salaries and fringe benefits for administering grading and reporting tests and reporting on student attendance and performance; and supplies and data processing used in connection with the tests. A
1983 Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388 - A Minnesota plan allowed a tax deduction of $500-$700 for parents of school children for actual expenses incurred for tuition, books and transportation. 5:4 Does a state tax deduction primarily benefiting parents of parochial school children by reimbursing them for education expenses incurred in sending their children to parochial school violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court held that providing deductions to aid parents in sending their children to parochial school had the secular purpose of offering "wholesome" competition with public schools. Because a variety of deductions are offered under the plan, including medical, it neither advanced or prohibited religion. Since the aid to parochial schools only came as the result of the private choices of individual parents, the Majority found "no imprimatur of State approval." A
1985 Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U.S. 373 - A Michigan state plan provided for the funding of special education programs in non-public schools. The courses offered were supplementary and the program paid for the salaries of the teachers and the course materials. Most of the teachers were also employees of the non-public school. Six taxpayers filed suit against the school district. 5:4 Does a state plan to fund special education supplemental programs in parochial schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court originally held that the Lemon test applied to invalidate the plan because its primary effect was to advance religion. The Court overruled that portion of the case after Agostini:"We have departed from the rule ... that all government aid that directly aids the educational function of religious schools is invalid." (Citing Witters & Zobrest) Overruled by Agostini v. Felton. S
1985 Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U.S. 402 - NYC school plan authorized the distribution of federal funds under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to pay the salaries of public employees who teach supplemental special education to educationally and economically deprived students in parochial schools. The program provided for monthly supervisory visits to ensure no religion was being taught or advanced. 5:4 Does the federal funding of public school employees to teach special education programs in parochial schools violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court originally agreed with the reasoning of Grand Rapids and found that the Title I remedial instruction advanced the cause of the religious school. In addition, the Court found that the plan's measures to safeguard against Establishment actually caused an excessive entanglement between Church and State. Overruled by Agostini v. Felton. S
1985 Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 - AL passed 3 successive statutes concerning school prayer and moment of silence. St.1 allowed for a moment of silence for grade 1-6; St.2 allowed for a moment of silence and voluntary prayer for all grades; St.3 authorized teachers to lead students in voluntary prayer. Jaffree, a parent for 3 school-age children filed suit to enjoin the practice as unconstitutional. 6:3 Does a statute that authorizes a school to provide a moment of silence or voluntary prayer (Statute 2) violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? Statute 3 had already been declared unconstitutional by the Court. The Constitutionality of Statute 1 had not been questioned. The Court, however, found that Statute 2 was unconstitutional, basing its decision on statements from the bill's sponsor that the purpose of the statute was religious in nature. The Court also found that the enactment of statutes 1 and 3 tended to show that the legislature did not have a constitutional purpose in mind when it passed Statute 2. S
1986 Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for the Blind, 474 U.S. 481 - Witters, a vision impaired individual, applied for state funding for higher education benefits offered under a statutory scheme to help the visually impaired become "productive members of society." The Commission empowered to provide the funds denied Witters application for benefits because he had chosen to enter a Bible College in preparation for a vocation as a minister. 9:0 Does state financial aid to an individual who is studying to become a minister violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court reversed this case on appeal from the State Supreme Court which had decided that if Witters received funding it would have the effect of advancing religion. The Supreme Court held that the statute had a secular purpose and that the program provided "neutrally available" state aid. The Court then sent the case back to the state court to apply the entanglement test. A
1987 Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 - A LA Act prohibited the teaching of evolution unless creationism was also taught. Parents, teachers and religious leaders challenged the constitutionality of the statute. 8:1 Does a state law requiring that the scientific theory of evolution may not be taught in schools unless the religious theory of creationism is also taught along with it violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Supreme Court found that the state law served a particular religious purpose - it advanced a religious doctrine by providing that a certain subject, evolution, would never be taught unless a religious perspective of that subject was presented along with it. S
1988 Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U.S. 589 - The Adolescent Family Life Act, passed by Congress, gave federal grants of funds to public and private organizations to provide counseling, educational and referral services to adolescents on issues concerning sexual activity of adolescents, teen pregnancy, family planning and abortion. A provision of the Act required grant applicants to describe how they will involve religious organizations in the provision of services. 8:1 Does the provision of federal funding to private religious organizations to offer family life counseling to adolescents which requires the incorporation of religion as a part of the program violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court reviewed the constitutionality of the Act and of its application and found that on its face the Act did not have the principle purpose or effect of advancing religion. The Court held that it was not a violation of the Establishment Clause for a religious organization to participate in the state program even when certain religious goals were furthered. The case was then remanded to determine whether the program caused excessive entanglement of government with religion. A
1990 Board of Education v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 - Students at a public High School asked for permission to start an extracurricular religious club to meet during non-instructional time. The School Board denied permission on the ground that it would violate the Establishment Clause. The students sued claiming the School Board had violated the Equal Access Act. 8:1 (1) Does prohibiting an extracurricular religious club to meet during non-instructional time at a public high school violate the Equal Access Act? (2) Does the Equal Access Act violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? (1) The Court found that the school's actions did violate the Equal Access Act because the school allowed other extra-curricular groups, chess, student government, social service organizations, to meet during non-instructional time. (2) The Court upheld the Equal Access Act which embodied the Widmar decision and applied it to high schools. The Court saw no difference between college students in Widmar and high school students in Mergens, and reasoned that high schoolers could understand that the school was not specifically endorsing the religious club. A/N
1992 Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 - The Providence School Commission allowed principals to invite members of the clergy to give invocations and benedictions at middle and high school graduations. Weisman objected to their practice for his daughter's middle school graduation. The principal ignored Williams' request, invited a Rabbi to give the Invocation and Benediction, and supplied instructions to the Rabbi concerning the content of the prayers. Weisman sought a permanent injunction barring Providence schools from "inviting the clergy to delivery invocations and benedictions at future graduations. 8:1 Does a secondary school graduation prayer given by a member of the clergy where the school principal controls the content of the prayer violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? Even though the school did not require students to attend the graduation ceremonies, the Court found that the practical and symbolic importance of the event, in essence, rendered its attendance "obligatory." Graduation prayer at secondary school, therefore, violated the Establishment Clause. The principal picked the clergy and controlled the content of the prayer - such actions were the equivalent of state endorsement of religious exercise. S
1993 Zobrest v. Catalina, 509 U.S. 1 - The Petitioner, a deaf high school student, requested that the state provide a sign language interpreter to provide assistance while he attends classes at a Roman Catholic High School pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Act. 8:1 Does providing a sign language interpreter to a deaf parochial school student violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court held that providing a sign language interpreter to assist a deaf parochial high school student in a private religious school did not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court held that social welfare programs, applied neutrally to all handicapped children, were the same as providing police or fire protection to both public and private schools. The Dissent suggested that the IDEA statute did not allow for the provision of handicap services to private schools so long as such service was provided at a public school. The Dissent went on to say that the case should have been decided on the correct application of IDEA, and not on the constitutional claims. A
1993 Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School, 508 U.S. 385 - A religious organization was denied permission to show a Dobson religious film at a public school during a time when the school property was not being used for school purposes. The school district had a policy of allowing certain uses during "off hours", and specifically excluded the use of the building for religious purposes. 9:0 Is the refusal to allow a church to show a religious film at a public school when school property is not being used for school purposes and when other civic and social organizations are allowed use of the property a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court held that the school policy favored non-religious over religious viewpoints and therefore violated the Free Speech Clause. The Court went on to hold that use of school property to show the religious film was not a violation of the Establishment Clause because it was not scheduled during school hours or sponsored by the school and because the film was open to the public. The school board policy had in essence created an "open forum." A/N
1994 Board of Education of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet, ___ U.S. ___ - The NY legislature passed an Act which created a special school district comprised solely of a Hasidim Village. The Board of Education of that district operated only a special education school, and the rest of the school- age children attended private religious school. ??? Does an Act creating a school district comprised only of a village of Hasidim Jews violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court held that one of the primary principles of the Establishment Clause is that the "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion." The Act established a franchise by a religious test which resulted in a "purposeful and forbidden fusion of government and religious function." S
1995 Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 115 S.Ct. 2510 - A student organization at the University of Virginia applied for status as a student group entitled to certain benefits including the payment of publication fees for its religious-oriented newspaper. The University denied the group the status and benefits, and the group sued claiming a violation of the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses. ???? Does the denial of funding to a student-run religious organization at a public university violate the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses of the 1st Amendment? The Court found that the university's actions had the effect of suppressing student speech in violation of the Free Speech Clause. In addition, the Court found the funding program was neutrally applied to religious and non-religious organizations. The money paid to the printer to publish the student newspaper allowed the group access to an "open forum" similar to the renting of a hall or leasing of equipment. A
1997 Agostini v. Felton, No. 96-552, Decided June 23, 1997 - Aguilar v. Felton, revisited. Petitioners are parties bound by the injunction in Aguilar. The petition for review is based on the argument that intervening law invalidates the Court's decision in Aguilar. 5:4 Does the federal funding of public school employees to teach special education programs in parochial schools violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment? The Court reverses its previous decisions in Grand Rapids v. Ball and Aguilar v. Felton. The Court says: "What has changed since we decided Ball and Aguilar is our understanding of the criteria used to assess whether aid to religion has an impermissible effect." The Court relies on the distinction that the program distributes funds to specific, eligible students as opposed to school wide which is permitted in public schools. The Court guts the excessive entanglement prong of the Lemon Test by saying that "pervasive monitoring" and "administrative cooperation" are acceptable given that no one objected to Title I funds used to pay for instruction that took place in mobile classrooms outside of the private schools. The Court refuses, however, to dispense with the prong altogether, so it appears the Lemon Test Remains in tact. S


Copyright 1996, 1998, Susan M. Batte.


 
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