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Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)

A New Jersey statute authorized local school districts to make rules and contracts for the transportation of children to and from public and private schools. The Board of Education of Ewing Township authorized reimbursement to parents of money spent by them for the bus transportation of their children on regular buses operated by the public transportation system. A taxpayer brought suit claiming that reimbursement to the parents of parochial school students violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Whether reimbursing parents for their children’s transportation to and from religious schools violates the Establishment Clause when it is part of a general transportation reimbursement scheme.

By a 5-4 vote, the Court held that the state does not violate the Establishment clause when it reimburses parents, as the money flows to the parents as part of a general secular policy designed to keep children safe while en route to and from school.

The Court found that while the Establishment Clause requires that the state remain neutral among religions and between religion and non-religion, the New Jersey plan merely provided money to parents as part of a general government service that was not inherently religious in character, similar to providing sewer and police services to churches.

"The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State.’" (Justice Hugo Black)

Although the Court was unanimous in affirming the principle of "neutrality" by the government toward religion, four Justices disagreed with the majority’s view that allowing reimbursement for bus transportation to parents of students in parochial schools was not a breach of church-state separation. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Wiley B. Rutledge defined "no establishment" this way: "The prohibition broadly forbids state support, financial or other, of religion in any guise, form or degree. It outlaws all use of public funds for religious purposes."

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Last updated: Monday, October 22, 2018 | 00:12:58