Shifting Boundaries: The Establishment Clause and Government Funding of Religious Schools and Other Faith-Based Organizations
Significant Supreme Court Rulings
Bradfield v. Roberts (1899)
Upheld the federal government’s funding of a hospital because even though the hospital was owned and staffed by a religious order, its primary function was to provide secular health care services.
Everson v. Board of Education (1947)
Applied the Establishment Clause to state and local governments and announced that the clause erected a “wall of separation” between religion and government; upheld a New Jersey statute that allowed local school boards to reimburse parents for the cost of busing their children to religious schools.
Board of Education v. Allen (1968)
Upheld a New York state program that required local school boards to loan textbooks at no cost to students in both public and private schools, including religious schools.
Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)
Announced an important Establishment Clause standard, now known as the “Lemon test”; invalidated Rhode Island and Pennsylvania programs that in various ways subsidized instruction in secular subjects in private schools, most of which were religious.
Tilton v. Richardson (1971)
Upheld the 1963 Higher Education Facilities Act, a federal statute that awarded construction grants to colleges and universities, including those affiliated with religious institutions; declared that government-funded buildings must not officially be used for school-sponsored religious activities.
Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist (1973)
Invalidated a New York state program that granted tuition tax credits to parents of children in private schools, many of which were religious; invalidated grants for maintenance and repair of these schools because the facilities were used for worship and religious instruction.
Mueller v. Allen (1983)
Upheld a Minnesota statute that allowed parents to deduct from their state income taxes any money they spent on “tuition, textbooks and transportation” for their children attending elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools.
Aguilar v. Felton (1985)
Invalidated a federal program that paid New York City public school teachers to provide remedial secular instruction to students living in low-income areas.This instruction was provided to students in both public and private schools, a substantial number of which were religious.
Grand Rapids School District v. Ball (1985)
Invalidated two Grand Rapids, Mich., school programs that provided public funds for supplemental secular instruction in private schools, many of which were religious.
Witters v. Washington Department of Services for the Blind (1986)
Upheld the use of a tuition grant at a religious college in accordance with a Washington state program that paid tuition for blind people at institutions of higher education or vocational training.
Bowen v. Kendrick (1988)
Upheld the eligibility of religious groups to receive funding under the 1981 Adolescent Family Life Act, a federal program that awarded grants to private groups that provided teen sex education.
Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993)
Ruled that the Establishment Clause allowed the government to provide a sign-language interpreter for a hearing-impaired student during instruction at his religious high school.
Agostini v. Felton (1997)
Overruled Aguilar v. Felton, thus upholding a federal program that offered secular remedial services inside NewYork City religious schools; more generally held that the government may directly provide aid to religious institutions when the aid is secular and the government provides safeguards to ensure that recipients use the aid for secular purposes.
Mitchell v. Helms (2000)
Upheld a federal program that provided instructional materials and equipment to public and private schools, including religious schools, that educated children who lived in low-income neighborhoods.
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002)
Upheld a Cleveland, Ohio, program that gave vouchers to low-income parents who chose to send their children to eligible private schools, most of which were religious.
Locke v. Davey (2004)
Upheld a Washington state program that denied scholarships to students pursuing theology degrees at religious schools.
Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation (2007)
Denied taxpayers the right to challenge the executive branch’s use of discretionary funds for programs that support religious groups.