The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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A table of important Establishment Clause cases dealing with religion and education: 1899 to 1970.

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
1899 Bradfield v. Roberts, 175 U.S. 291 - Taxpayer sued U.S. Treasurer b/c Congress appropriated money for a charity hospital chartered by Congress but operated by a Roman Catholic sisterhood. 9:0 Is the Congressional appropriation of funds for a hospital chartered by Congress and operated by a religious organization a violation of the First Amendment? The Court held that the secular charter granted to the hospital and controlled by Congress made the hospital a secular corporation, regardless of who actually operated it. N
1908 Quick Bear v. Leupp, 210 U.S. 50 - Sioux Indians sued U.S. Officials acting as Trustees who paid out money from a treaty fund and trust fund to Catholic Indian Mission to provide schools 9:0 Is it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment for Congress as Trustee of Indian funds to pay a Catholic Indian Mission to provide schools? The Court held that the funds belonged to the Indians who could use the money as they saw fit to educate their children. The Court did not find it significant that Congress could appropriate money w/o prior consent from the Indians N
1925 Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 - Private Military Academy and private school operated by the Society challenged Oregon's compulsory education act. 9:0 Does the Oregon Compulsory Education act deny the right of private and parochial schools to do business in violation of the due process clause of the 14th amendment? The Court held that the Act interfered with private schools' business & parents' liberty by compelling parents to send their children to public schools - both due process violations N
1930 Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 281 U.S. 370 - A LA Act allowed that tax funds be used to supply books to all school age children free of cost. Taxpayers sued claiming the Act violated the 14th amend. due process clause. 8:0 Does a LA statute providing free secular text books to all school children regardless of whether they attend public, private or parochial school a violation of the 14th amendment due process clause? The Court held that the appropriation of funds to purchase text books was permissible under a "child benefit" theory. This was the first time the Court would allow indirect aid to religious schools based on the "child benefit" theory. N
1947 Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 - Pursuant to NJ statute, local school board authorized reimbursement to parents of school age children for bus transportation on public buses to and from school. 5:4 Does a state statute giving reimbursement of the cost of transportation to and from school to parents of school age children violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment as applied to by the 14th Amendment? The Court acknowledged that the First Amendment was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state; however, the Court found that the plan to reimburse parents for bus transportation came under the child benefit theory. N
1948 McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 - An Ill. state plan offered religious instruction in the public schools. Children who did not wish to participate could be reassigned to other classes where no religious instruction was being offered, i.e., study hall, etc. 8:1 Does a state plan permitting religious instruction in the public schools with the provision that non-participants be reassigned to classes offering no religious instruction violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? Because public schools have compulsory education requirements, the Ill. plan created a situation where students were forced to participate in religious instruction or risk being ostracized by teachers and peers. The Court found the plan did violate the Establishment Clause. S
1952 Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 - NY state plan offered a "release time" program to allow students to attend religious classes off school grounds during the school day 6:3 Does a plan allowing religious instruction to be offered off school grounds while non-participants remained in school pursuant to state compulsory education requirements violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court held that because the program was offered off school grounds, the "release time" program did not violate the Establishment Clause. N
1962 Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 - NY Board of Regents composed the following prayer: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country" to be recited in public schools each morning. 8:1 Does the recitation of a non-denominational prayer in public schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court held that "the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is not part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people, to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government." S
1963 Abington v. Schemmp, 374 U.S. 203 - PA. Statute required that 10 versus from the Bible be read in Public Schools; Md. allowed for daily bible reading and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools. 8:1 Does the reading of Bible verses and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court found that neither program had a secular purpose but both had the primary effect of advancing religion. Under the "secular purpose" and "primary effect" tests, The Court found that both states' plans violated the Establishment Clause. S
1968 Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236 - A NY state law required that Public Schools lend textbooks to all students, grades seven through twelve, free of charge. The Board of Education filed suit and sought a declaration that the law violated state and federal constitutions. 5:3 Does a statute that requires public schools to loan parochial school children textbooks for free violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court applied the "purpose" and "primary effect" tests to determine that the law did not advance or prohibit religion. Instead, the Court found that the purpose of the law was to further "the educational opportunities available to the young," and that the loan of textbooks benefited parents and children, not the parochial schools. A
1968 Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 - Arkansas law making it illegal to teach evolution in the public schools was challenged by a biology teacher. 9:0 Does a statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court held that prohibiting the teaching of evolution actually had the effect of advancing a particular religion's beliefs and so violated the secular purpose test. S
1968 Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 - Seven taxpayers brought suit to enjoin the Secretary of HEW from spending funds to provide services and textbooks to religious schools. Do taxpayers have standing to file a suit challenging the constitutionality of a federal statute on the ground that it violates the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. The Court held that the taxpayers had standing to sue. "Our history vividly illustrates that one of the specific evils feared by those who drafted the Establishment Clause ... was that the taxing and spending power would be used to favor one religion over another or to support religion in general." S
1970 Waltz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664 - Waltz, a NY lawyer, sought to have NY's tax exemption for religious institutions eliminated. He filed suit after he purchased property in NY City so he could qualify as a taxpayer. 7:1 Is a tax exemption to a religious institution a violation of the Establishment Clause because it requires taxpayers to make indirect "contributions" to those religious institutions? The Court upheld the tax exemption b/c it was applied to non-religious institutions as well as religious; b/c levying taxes on churches would require state entanglement in religious affairs; b/c the tax exemption had been in effect for 2 centuries and no establishment had resulted from it. N

Continue to Table 2

Copyright 1996, Susan M. Batte.

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