First Amendment: Religion And Free Expression
Religion An Overview Madison's original proposal for a bill of rights provision concerning religion read: "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed."
The language was altered in the House to read: "Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience." In the Senate, the section adopted read: "Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, . . ."
It was in the conference committee of the two bodies, chaired by Madison, that the present language was written with its somewhat more indefinite "respecting" phraseology. Debate in Congress lends little assistance in interpreting the religion clauses; Madison's position, as well as that of Jefferson, who influenced him, is fairly clear, but the intent, insofar as there was one, of the others in Congress who voted for the language and those in the States who voted to ratify is subject to speculation.
Scholarly Commentary.-The explication of the religion clauses by scholars in the nineteenth century gave a restrained sense of their meaning. Story, who thought that "the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice," looked upon the prohibition simply as an exclusion from the Federal Government of all power to act upon the subject. "The situation . . . of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states, episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in others, quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship."
"Probably," Story also wrote, "at the time of the adoption of the constitution and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation." The object, then, of the religion clauses in this view was not to prevent general governmental encouragement of religion, of Christianity, but to prevent religious persecution and to prevent a national establishment.
Not until the Supreme Court held the religion clauses applicable to the states in the 1940s did it have much opportunity to interpret them. But it quickly gave them a broad construction. In Everson v. Board of Education, the Court, without dissent on this point, declared that the Establishment Clause forbids not only practices that "aid one religion" or "prefer one religion over another," but also those that "aid all religions." With respect to the Free Exercise Clause, it asserted in Wisconsin v. Yoder that "only those interests of the highest order and those not otherwise served can overbalance legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion."
More recent decisions, however, evidence a narrower interpretation of the religion clauses. Indeed, in Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v. Smith the Court abandoned its earlier view and held that the Free Exercise Clause never "relieve(s) an individual of the obligation to comply with a 'valid and neutral law of general applicability."' On the Establishment Clause the Court has not wholly repudiated its previous holdings, but recent decisions have evidenced a greater sympathy for the view that the clause bars "preferential" governmental promotion of some religions but allows governmental promotion of all religion in general. Nonetheless, the Court remains sharply split on how to interpret both clauses.
Court Tests Applied to Legislation Affecting Religion.- Before considering in detail the development of the two religion clauses by the Supreme Court, one should notice briefly the tests the Court has articulated to adjudicate the religion cases. At the same time it should be emphasized that the Court has noted that the language of earlier cases "may have [contained] too sweeping utterances on aspects of these clauses that seemed clear in relation to the particular cases but have limited meaning as general principles." While later cases have relied on a series of well-defined, if difficult-to-apply, tests, the Court has cautioned that "the purpose [of the religion clauses] was to state an objective, not to write a statute."
In 1802, President Jefferson wrote a letter to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, in which he declared that it was the purpose of the First Amendment to build "a wall of separation between Church and State." In Reynolds v. United States, Chief Justice Waite for the Court characterized the phrase as "almost an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment." In its first encounters with religion-based challenges to state programs, the Court looked to Jefferson's metaphor for substantial guidance. But a metaphor may obscure as well as illuminate, and the Court soon began to emphasize neutrality and voluntarism as the standard of restraint on governmental action. The concept of neutrality itself is "a coat of many colors," and three standards that seemingly could be stated in objective fashion emerged as tests of Establishment Clause validity. The first two standards emerged together. "The test may be stated as follows: what are the purpose and the primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution. That is to say that to withstand the strictures of the Establishment Clause there must be a secular legislative purpose and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion." The third test emerged several years later and asks whether the governmental program results in "an excessive government entanglement with religion. The test is inescapably one of degree . . . [T]he questions are whether the involvement is excessive, and whether it is a continuing one calling for official and continuing surveillance leading to an impermissible degree of entanglement." In 1971 these three tests were combined and restated in Chief Justice Burger's opinion for the Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, and are frequently referred to by reference to that case name.
Although at one time accepted in principle by all of the Justices, the tests have sometimes been difficult to apply, have recently come under direct attack by some Justices, and in several instances have not been applied at all by the Court. Nonetheless, the Court employed the Lemon tests in several of its most recent establishment clause decisions, and it remains the case that those tests have served as the primary standard of establishment clause validity for the past three decades. However, other tests have also been formulated and used. Justice Kennedy has proffered "coercion" as an alternative test for violations of the establishment clause, and the Court has used that test as the basis for decision from time to time. But that test has been criticized on the grounds it would eliminate a principal distinction between the establishment clause and the free exercise clause and make the former a "virtual nullity." Justice O'Connor has suggested "endorsement" as a clarification of the Lemon test, i.e., that the establishment clause is violated if the government intends its action to endorse or disapprove of religion or if a "reasonable observer" would perceive the government's action as such an endorsement or disapproval. But others have criticized that test as too amorphous to provide certain guidance. Justice O'Connor has also suggested that it may be inappropriate to try to shoehorn all establishment clause cases into one test, and has called instead for recognition that different contexts may call for different approaches. In two of its most recentestablishment clause decisions, it might be noted, the Court employed all three tests in one decision and relied primarily on a modified version of the Lemon tests in the other.
In interpreting and applying the Free Exercise Clause, the Court has consistently held religious beliefs to be absolutely immune from governmental interference. But it has used a number of standards to review government action restrictive of religiously motivated conduct, ranging from formal neutrality to clear and present danger to strict scrutiny. For cases of intentional governmental discrimination against religion, the Court still employs strict scrutiny But for most other free exercise cases it has now reverted to a standard of formal neutrality. "[T]he right of free exercise," it recently stated, "does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a 'valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes)."'
Government Neutrality in Religious Disputes.-One value that both clauses of the religion section serve is to enforce governmental neutrality in deciding controversies arising out of religious disputes. Schism sometimes develops within churches or between a local church and the general church, resulting in secession or expulsion of one faction or of the local church. A dispute over which body is to have control of the property of the church will then often be taken into the courts. It is now established that both religion clauses prevent governmental inquiry into religious doctrine in settling such disputes, and instead require courts simply to look to the decision-making body or process in the church and to give effect to whatever decision is officially and properly made.
The first such case was Watson v. Jones, which was decided on common-law grounds in a diversity action without explicit reliance on the First Amendment. A constitutionalization of the rule was made in Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, in which the Court held unconstitutional a state statute that recognized the autonomy and authority of those North American branches of the Russian Orthodox Church which had declared their independence from the general church. Recognizing that Watson v. Jones had been decided on nonconstitutional grounds, the Court thought nonetheless that the opinion "radiates . . . a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, and independence from secular control or manipulation-in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine." The power of civil courts to resolve church property disputes was severely circumscribed, the Court held, because to permit resolution of doctrinal disputes in court was to jeopardize First Amendment values. What a court must do, it was held, is to look at the church rules: if the church is a hierarchical one which reposes determination of ecclesiastical issues in a certain body, the resolution by that body is determinative, while if the church is a congregational one prescribing action by a majority vote, that determination will prevail. On the other hand, a court confronted with a church property dispute could apply "neutral principles of law, developed for use in all property disputes," when to do so would not require resolution of doctrinal issues. In a later case the Court elaborated on the limits of proper inquiry, holding that an argument over a matter of internal church government, the power to reorganize the dioceses of a hierarchical church in this country, was "at the core of ecclesiastical affairs" and a court could not interpret the church constitution to make an independent determination of the power but must defer to the interpretation of the church body authorized to decide.
In Jones v. Wolf, however, a divided Court, while formally adhering to these principles, appeared to depart in substance from their application. A schism had developed in a local church which was a member of a hierarchical church, and the majority voted to withdraw from the general church. The proper authority of the general church determined that the minority constituted the "true congregation" of the local church and awarded them authority over it. But rather than requiring deference to the decision of the church body, the Court approved the approach of the state court in applying neutral principles by examining the deeds to the church property, state statutes, and provisions of the general church's constitution concerning ownership and control of church property in order to determine that no language of trust in favor of the general church was contained in any of them and that the property thus belonged to the local congregational majority. Further, the Court held, the First Amendment did not prevent the state court from applying a presumption of majority rule to award control to the majority of the local congregation, provided that it permitted defeasance of the presumption upon a showing that the identity of the local church is to be determined by some other means as expressed perhaps in the general church charter. The dissent argued that to permit a court narrowly to view only the church documents relating to property ownership permitted it to ignore the fact that the dispute was over ecclesiastical matters and that the general church had decided which faction of the congregation was the local church.
Thus, it is unclear where the Court is on this issue. Jones v. Wolf restated the rule that it is improper to review an ecclesiastical dispute and that deference is required in those cases, but by approving a neutral principles inquiry which in effect can filter out the doctrinal issues underlying a church dispute, the Court seems to have approved at least an indirect limitation of the authority of hierarchical churches.
Establishment of Religion
"[F]or the men who wrote the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment the 'establishment' of a religion connoted sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity." "[The] Court has long held that the First Amendment reaches more than classic, 18th century establishments." However, the Court's reading of the clause has never resulted in the barring of all assistance which aids, however incidentally, a religious institution. Outside this area, the decisions generally have more rigorously prohibited what may be deemed governmental promotion of religious doctrine.
Financial Assistance to Church-Related Institutions.- The Court's first opportunity to rule on the validity of governmental financial assistance to a religiously affiliated institution occurred in 1899, the assistance being a federal grant for the construction of a wing of a hospital owned and operated by a Roman Catholic order which was to be devoted to the care of the poor. The Court viewed the hospital primarily as a secular institution so chartered by Congress and not as a religious or sectarian body, and thus avoided the constitutional issue. But when the right of local authorities to provide free transportation for children attending parochial schools reached the Court, it adopted a very broad view of the restrictions imposed by the establishment clause. "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."
But despite this interpretation, the majority sustained the provision of transportation. While recognizing that "it approaches the verge" of the State's constitutional power, still, Justice Black thought, the transportation was a form of "public welfare legislation" which was being extended "to all its citizens without regard to their religious belief." "It is undoubtedly true that children are helped to get to church schools. There is even a possibility that some of the children might not be sent to the church schools if the parents were compelled to pay their children's bus fares out of their own pockets when transportation to a public school would have been paid for by the State." Transportation benefited the child, just as did police protection at crossings, fire protection, connections for sewage disposal, public highways and sidewalks. Thus was born the "child benefit" theory.
The Court in 1968 relied on the "child benefit" theory to sustain state loans of textbooks to parochial school students. Utilizing the secular purpose and effect tests, the Court determined that the purpose of the loans was the "furtherance of the educational opportunities available to the young," while the effect was hardly less secular. "The law merely makes available to all children the benefits of a general program to lend school books free of charge. Books are furnished at the request of the pupil and ownership remains, at least technically, in the State. Thus no funds or books are furnished to parochial schools, and the financial benefit is to parents and children, not to schools. Perhaps free books make it more likely that some children choose to attend a sectarian school, but that was true of the state-paid bus fares in Everson and does not alone demonstrate an unconstitutional degree of support for a religious institution."
From these beginnings, the case law on the discretion of state and federal governmental assistance to sectarian elementary and secondary schools as well as other religious entities has multiplied. Through the 1970s, at least, the law became as restrictive in fact as the dicta in the early cases suggested, save for the provision of some assistance to children under the "child benefit" theory. Since that time the Court has gradually adopted a more accommodating approach. It has upheld direct aid programs that have been of only marginal benefit to the religious mission of the recipient elementary and secondary schools, tax benefit and scholarship aid programs where the schools have received the assistance as the result of the independent decisions of the parents or students who initially receive the aid, and in its most recent decisions direct aid programs which substantially benefit the educational function of such schools. Indeed, in its most recent decisions the Court has overturned several of the most restrictive school aid precedents from its earlier jurisprudence. Throughout, the Court has allowed greater discretion with respect to aid programs benefiting religiously affiliated colleges and social services agencies.
A secular purpose is the first requirement of the Lemon tripartite test to sustain the validity of legislation touching upon religion, and upon this standard the Justices display little disagreement. There are adequate legitimate, non-sectarian bases for legislation to assist nonpublic, religious schools: preservation of a healthy and safe educational environment for all school children, promotion of pluralism and diversity among public and nonpublic schools, and prevention of overburdening of the public school system that would accompany the financial failure of private schools.
The primary secular effect and no excessive entanglement aspects of the Lemon test, however, have proven much more divisive. As a consequence, the Court's applications of these tests have not always been consistent, and the rules guiding their application have not always been easy to decipher. Moreover, in its most recent decisions the Court has substantially modified the strictures these tests have previously imposed on public aid to pervasively sectarian entities.
In applying the primary effect and excessive entanglement tests, the Court has drawn a distinction between public aid programs that directly aid sectarian entities and those that do so only indirectly. Aid provided directly, the Court has said, must be limited to secular use lest it have a primary effect of advancing religion. The establishment clause "absolutely prohibit[s] government-financed or government-sponsored indoctrination into the beliefs of a particular religious faith." The government may provide direct support to the secular services and programs sponsored by religious entities, but it cannot directly subsidize such organizations' religious activities or proselytizing. Thus, the Court has struck down as unconstitutional a program providing grants for the maintenance and repair of sectarian elementary and secondary school facilities, because the grants had no restrictions to prevent their use for such purposes as defraying the costs of building or maintaining chapels or classrooms in which religion is taught, and a program subsidizing field trip transportation for children attending sectarian elementary and secondary schools, because field trips are inevitably interwoven with the schools' educational functions.
But the Court has not imposed a secular use limitation on aid programs that benefit sectarian entities only indirectly, i.e., as the result of decisions by someone other than the government itself. The initial beneficiaries of the public aid must be determined on the basis of religiously neutral criteria, and they must have a genuine choice about whether to use the aid at sectarian or non-sectarian entities. But where those standards have been met, the Court has upheld indirect aid programs even though the sectarian institutions that ultimately benefit may use the aid for religious purposes. Moreover, the Court has gradually broadened its understanding of what constitutes a genuine choice so that now most voucher or tax benefit programs benefiting the parents of children attending sectarian schools seem able to pass constitutional muster. Thus, the Court initially struck down tax benefit and educational voucher programs where the initial beneficiaries were limited to the universe of parents of children attending sectarian schools and where the aid, as a consequence, was virtually certain to go to sectarian schools. But subsequently it has upheld a state program allowing taxpayers to take a deduction from their gross income for educational expenses, including tuition, incurred in sending their children to public or private schools, because the deduction was "available for educational expenses incurred by all parents" and the aid became available to sectarian schools "only as a result of numerous, private choices of individual parents of school-age children." It has upheld for the same reasons a vocational rehabilitation program that made a grant to a blind person for training at a Bible college for a religious vocation and another program that provided a sign-language interpreter for a deaf student attending a sectarian secondary school. Most recently, it upheld as constitutional a tuition voucher program made available to the parents of children attending failing public schools, notwithstanding the fact that most of the private schools at which the vouchers could be used were sectarian in nature. Whether the parents had a genuine choice among religious and secular options in using the vouchers, the Court said, had to be evaluated on the basis not only of the private schools where the vouchers could be redeemed but also by examining the full range of educational options open to them, including various public school options.
In applying the primary effect and excessive entanglement tests, the Court has also, until recently, drawn a distinction between religious institutions that are pervasively sectarian and those that are not. Organizations that are permeated by a religious purpose and character in all that they do have often been held by the Court to be constitutionally ineligible for direct public aid. Direct aid to religion-dominated institutions inevitably violates the primary effect test, the Court has said, because such aid generally cannot be limited to secular use in such entities and, as a consequence, it has a primary effect of advancing religion. Moreover, any effort to limit the use of public aid by such entities to secular use inevitably falls afoul of the excessive entanglement test, according to the Court, because the risk of diversion of the aid to religious use is so great that it necessitates an intrusive government monitoring. But direct aid to religious entities that are not pervasively sectarian, the Court has held, is constitutionally permissible, because the secular functions of such entities can be distinguished from their religious ones for purposes of public aid and because the risk of diversion of the aid to religious use is attenuated and does not require an intrusive government monitoring. As a practical matter, this distinction has had its most serious consequences for programs providing aid directly to sectarian elementary and secondary schools, because the Court has, until recently, presumed such schools to be pervasively sectarian and direct aid, as a consequence, to be severely limited. The Court has presumed to the contrary with respect to religiously-affiliated colleges, hospitals, and social services providers; and as a consequence it has found direct aid programs to such entities to be permissible.
In its most recent decisions the Court has modified both the primary effect and excessive entanglement prongs of the Lemon test as they apply to aid programs directly benefiting sectarian elementary and secondary schools; and in so doing it has overturned several prior decisions imposing tight constraints on aid to pervasively sectarian institutions. In Agostini v. Felton the Court, in a 5-4 decision, abandoned the presumptions that public school teachers giving instruction on the premises of sectarian elementary and secondary schools will be so affected by the religiosity of the environment that they will inculcate religion and that, consequently, an excessively entangling monitoring of their services is constitutionally necessary. In Mitchell v. Helms, in turn, it abandoned the presumptions that such schools are so pervasively sectarian that their secular educational functions cannot be differentiated from their religious educational functions and that direct aid to their educational functions, consequently, violates the establishment clause. In reaching these conclusions and upholding the aid programs in question, the Court overturned its prior decision in Aguilar v. Felton and parts of its decisions in Meek v. Pittenger, Wolman v. Walter, and Grand Rapids School District v. Ball.
Thus, the Court's jurisprudence concerning public aid to sectarian organizations has evolved over time, particularly as it concerns public aid to sectarian elementary and secondary schools. That evolution has given some uncertainty to the rules that apply to any given form of aid; and in both Agostini v. Felton and Mitchell v. Helms the Court left open the possibility of a further evolution in its thinking. Nonetheless, the cases give substantial guidance.
State aid to church-connected schools was first found to have gone over the "verge" in Lemon v. Kurtzman. Involved were two state statutes, one of which authorized the "purchase" of secular educational services from nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, a form of reimbursement for the cost to religious schools of the teaching of such things as mathematics, modern foreign languages, and physical sciences, and the other of which provided salary supplements to nonpublic school teachers who taught courses similar to those found in public schools, used textbooks approved for use in public schools, and agreed not to teach any classes in religion. Accepting the secular purpose attached to both statutes by the legislature, the Court did not pass on the secular effect test, but found excessive entanglement. This entanglement arose because the legislature "has not, and could not, provide state aid on the basis of a mere assumption that secular teachers under religious discipline can avoid conflicts. The State must be certain, given the Religion Clauses, that subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion." Because the schools concerned were religious schools, because they were under the control of the church hierarchy, because the primary purpose of the schools was the propagation of the faith, a "comprehensive, discriminating, and continuing state surveillance will inevitably be required to ensure that these restrictions [on religious utilization of aid] are obeyed and the First Amendment otherwise respected." Moreover, the provision of public aid inevitably will draw religious conflict into the public arena as the contest for adequate funding goes on. Thus, the Court held, both programs were unconstitutional because the state supervision necessary to ensure a secular purpose and a secular effect inevitably involved the state authorities too deeply in the religious affairs of the aided institutions.
Two programs of assistance through provision of equipment and services to private, including sectarian, schools were invalidated in Meek v. Pittenger. First, the loan of instructional material and equipment directly to qualifying nonpublic elementary and secondary schools was voided as an impermissible extension of assistance of religion. This conclusion was reached on the basis that 75 percent of the qualifying schools were church- related or religiously affiliated educational institutions and the assistance was available without regard to the degree of religious activity of the schools. The materials and equipment loaned were religiously neutral, but the substantial assistance necessarily constituted aid to the sectarian school enterprise as a whole and thus had a primary effect of advancing religion. Second, the provision of auxiliary services-remedial and accelerated instruction, guidance counseling and testing, speech and hearing services-by public employees on nonpublic school premises was invalidated because the Court thought the program had to be policed closely to ensure religious neutrality and it saw no way that could be done without impermissible entanglement. The fact that the teachers would, under this program and unlike one of the programs condemned in Lemon v. Kurtzman, be public employees rather than employees of the religious schools and possibly under religious discipline was insufficient to permit the State to fail to make certain that religion was not inculcated by subsidized teachers. (Justice Powell concurring in part and dissenting in part).
The Court in two 1985 cases again struck down programs of public subsidy of instructional services provided on the premises of sectarian schools, and relied on the effects test as well as the entanglement test. In Grand Rapids School District v. Ball, the Court invalidated two programs conducted in leased private school classrooms, one taught during the regular school day by public school teachers, and the other taught after regular school hours by part-time "public" teachers otherwise employed as full-time teachers by the sectarian school. Both programs, the Court held, had the effect of promoting religion in three distinct ways. The teachers might be influenced by the "pervasively sectarian nature" of the environment and might "subtly or overtly indoctrinate the students in particular religious tenets at public expense"; use of the parochial school classrooms "threatens to convey a message of state support for religion" through "the symbolic union of government and religion in one sectarian enterprise"; and "the programs in effect subsidize the religious functions of the parochial schools by taking over a substantial portion of their responsibility for teaching secular subjects." In Aguilar v. Felton, the Court invalidated a program under which public school employees provided instructional services on parochial school premises to educationally deprived children. The program differed from those at issue in Grand Rapids because the classes were closely monitored for religious content. This "pervasive monitoring" did not save the program, however, because, by requiring close cooperation and day-to-day contact between public and secular authorities, the monitoring "infringes precisely those Establishment Clause values at the root of the prohibition of excessive entanglement."
A state program to reimburse nonpublic schools for a variety of services mandated by state law was voided because the statute did not distinguish between secular and potentially religious services the costs of which would be reimbursed. Similarly, a program of direct monetary grants to nonpublic schools to be used for the maintenance of school facilities and equipment failed to survive the primary effect test because it did not restrict payment to those expenditures related to the upkeep of facilities used exclusively for secular purposes and because "within the context of these religion-oriented institutions" the Court could not see how such restrictions could effectively be imposed. But a plan of direct monetary grants to nonpublic schools to reimburse them for the costs of state-mandated record- keeping and of administering and grading state-prepared tests and which contained safeguards against religious utilization of the tests was sustained even though the Court recognized the incidental benefit to the schools.
The "child benefit" theory, under which it is permissible for government to render ideologically neutral assistance and services to pupils in sectarian schools without being deemed to be aiding the religious mission of the schools, has not proved easy to apply. A number of different forms of assistance to students were at issue in Wolman v. Walter. The Court approved the following: standardized tests and scoring services used in the public schools, with private school personnel not involved in the test drafting and scoring; speech, hearing, and psychological diagnostic services provided in the private schools by public employees; and therapeutic, guidance, and remedial services for students provided off the premises of the private schools. In all these, the Court thought the program contained adequate built-in protections against religious utilization. But while the Court adhered to its ruling permitting the States to loan secular textbooks used in the public schools to pupils attending religious schools, it declined to extend the precedent to permit the loan to pupils or their parents of instructional materials and equipment, such as projectors, tape recorders, maps, globes and science kits, although they were identical to those used in the public schools. Nor was a State permitted to expend funds to pay the costs to religious schools of field trip transportation such as was provided to public school students.
The Court's more recent decisions, however, have rejected the reasoning and overturned the results of several of these decisions. In two rulings the Court reversed course with respect to the constitutionality of public school personnel providing educational services on the premises of pervasively sectarian schools. First, in Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District the Court held the public subsidy of a sign-language interpreter for a deaf student attending a parochial school to create no primary effect or entanglement problems. The payment did not relieve the school of an expense that it would otherwise have borne, the Court stated, and the interpreter had no role in selecting or editing the content of any of the lessons. Reviving the child benefit theory of its earlier cases, the Court said that "[t]he service at issue in this case is part of a general government program that distributes benefits neutrally to any child qualifying as 'handicapped' under the IDEA, without regard to the 'sectarian-nonsectarian, or public-nonpublic nature' of the school the child attends."
Secondly, and more pointedly, the Court in Agostini v. Felton overturned both the result and the reasoning of its decision in Aguilar v. Felton striking down the Title I program as administered in New York City as well as the analogous parts of its decisions in Meek v. Pittenger and Grand Rapids School District v. Ball. The assumptions on which those decisions had rested, the Court explicitly stated, had been "undermined" by its more recent decisions. Decisions such as Zobrest and Witters v. Washington Department of Social Services, it said, had repudiated the notions that the placement of a public employee in a sectarian school creates an "impermissible symbolic link" between government and religion, that "all government aid that directly aids the educational function of religious schools" is constitutionally forbidden, that public teachers in a sectarian school necessarily pose a serious risk of inculcating religion, and that "pervasive monitoring of [such] teachers is required." The proper criterion under the primary effect prong of the Lemon test, the Court asserted, is religious neutrality, i.e., whether "aid is allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria that neither favor nor disfavor religion, and is made available to both religious and secular beneficiaries on a non-discriminatory basis." Finding the Title I program to meet that test, the Court concluded that "accordingly, we must acknowledge that Aguilar, as well as the portion of Ball addressing Grand Rapids' Shared Time program, are no longer good law."
Most recently, in Mitchell v. Helms the Court abandoned the presumptions that religious elementary and secondary schools are so pervasively sectarian that they are constitutionally ineligible to participate in public aid programs directly benefiting their educational functions and that direct aid to such institutions must be subject to an intrusive and constitutionally fatal monitoring. At issue in the case was a federal program providing funds to local educational agencies to provide instructional materials and equipment such as computer hardware and software, library books, movie projectors, television sets, VCRs, laboratory equipment, maps, and cassette recordings to public and private elementary and secondary schools. Virtually identical programs had previously been held unconstitutional by the Court in Meek v. Pittenger and Wolman v. Walter. But in this case the Court overturned those decisions and held the program to be constitutional.
The Justices could agree on no majority opinion in Mitchell but instead joined in three different opinions. The opinions of Justice Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Kennedy, and of Justice O'Connor, joined by Justice Breyer, found the program constitutional. They agreed that to pass muster under the primary effect prong of the Lemon test direct public aid has to be secular in nature and distributed on the basis of religiously neutral criteria. They also agreed, in contrast to past rulings, that sectarian elementary and secondary schools should not be deemed constitutionally ineligible for direct aid on the grounds their secular educational functions are "inextricably intertwined" with their religious educational functions, i.e,, that they are pervasively sectarian. But their rationales for the program's constitutionality then diverged. For Justice Thomas it was sufficient that the instructional materials were secular in nature and were distributed according to neutral criteria. It made no difference whether the schools used the aid for purposes of religious indoctrination or not. But that was not sufficient for Justice O'Connor. She adhered to the view that direct public aid has to be limited to secular use by the recipient institutions. She further asserted that a limitation to secular use could be honored by the teachers in the sectarian schools and that the risk that the aid would be used for religious purposes was not so great as to require an intrusive and entangling government monitoring.
Justice Souter, joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, dissented on the grounds the establishment clause bars "aid supporting a sectarian school's religious exercise or the discharge of its religious mission." Adhering to the "substantive principle of no aid" first articulated in the Everson case, he contended that direct aid to pervasively sectarian institutions inevitably results in the diversion of the aid for purposes of religious indoctrination. He further argued that the aid in this case had been so diverted.
As the opinion upholding the program's constitutionality on the narrowest grounds, Justice O'Connor's opinion provides the most current guidance on the standards governing the constitutionality of aid programs directly benefiting sectarian elementary and secondary schools.
The Court has similarly loosened the constitutional restrictions on public aid programs indirectly benefiting sectarian elementary and secondary schools. Initially, the Court in 1973 struck down substantially similar programs from New York and Pennsylvania providing for tuition reimbursement to parents of religious school children. New York's program provided reimbursements out of general tax revenues for tuition paid by low- income parents to send their children to nonpublic elementary and secondary schools; the reimbursements were of fixed amounts but could not exceed 50 percent of actual tuition paid. Pennsylvania provided fixed-sum reimbursement for parents who sent their children to nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, so long as the amount paid did not exceed actual tuition, the funds to be derived from cigarette tax revenues. Both programs, it was held, constituted public financial assistance to sectarian institutions with no attempt to segregate the benefits so that religion was not advanced.
New York had also enacted a separate program providing tax relief for low-income parents not qualifying for the tuition reimbursements; here relief was in the form of a deduction or credit bearing no relationship to the amounts of tuition paid, but keyed instead to adjusted gross income. This too was invalidated in Nyquist. "In practical terms there would appear to be little difference, for purposes of determining whether such aid has the effect of advancing religion, between the tax benefit allowed here and the tuition [reimbursement] grant.... The qualifying parent under either program receives the same form of encouragement and reward for sending his children to nonpublic schools. The only difference is that one parent receives an actual cash payment while the other is allowed to reduce by an arbitrary amount the sum he would otherwise be obliged to pay over to the State. We see no answer to Judge Hays' dissenting statement below that '[i]n both instances the money involved represents a charge made upon the state for the purpose of religious education."' Some difficulty, however, was experienced in distinguishing this program from the tax exemption approved in Walz.
Two subsidiary arguments were rejected by the Court in these cases. First, it had been argued that the tuition reimbursement program promoted the free exercise of religion in that it permitted low-income parents desiring to send their children to school in accordance with their religious views to do so. The Court agreed that "tension inevitably exists between the Free Exercise and the Establishment Clauses," but explained that the tension is ordinarily resolved through application of the "neutrality" principle: government may neither advance nor inhibit religion. The tuition program inescapably advanced religion and thereby violated this principle. In the Pennsylvania case, it was argued that because the program reimbursed parents who sent their children to nonsectarian schools as well as to sectarian ones, the portion respecting the former parents was valid and "parents of children who attended sectarian schools are entitled to the same aid as a matter of equal protection. The argument is thoroughly spurious.... The Equal Protection Clause has never been regarded as a bludgeon with which to compel a State to violate other provisions of the Constitution."
In Wheeler v. Barrera, 417 U.S. 402 (1974), the Court held that States receiving federal educational funds were required by federal law to provide "comparable" but not equal services to both public and private school students within the restraints imposed by state constitutional restrictions on aid to religious schools. In the absence of specific plans, the Court declined to review First Amendment limitations on such services.
The limits of the Nyquist holding were clarified in 1983. In Mueller v. Allen, the Court upheld a Minnesota deduction from state income tax available to parents of elementary and secondary school children for expenses incurred in providing tuition, transportation, textbooks, and various other school supplies. Because the Minnesota deduction was available to parents of public and private schoolchildren alike, the Court termed it "vitally different from the scheme struck down in Nyquist," and more similar to the benefits upheld in Everson and Allen as available to all schoolchildren. The Court declined to look behind the "facial neutrality" of the law and consider empirical evidence of its actual impact, citing a need for "certainty" and the lack of "principled standards" by which to evaluate such evidence. Also important to the Court's refusal to consider the alleged disproportionate benefits to parents of parochial schools was the assertion that, "whatever unequal effect may be attributed to the statutory classification can fairly be regarded as a rough return for the benefits . . . provided to the State and all taxpayers by parents sending their children to parochial schools."
A second factor important in Mueller, present but not controlling in Nyquist, was that the financial aid was provided to the parents of schoolchildren rather than to the school, and thus in the Court's view was "attenuated" rather than direct; since aid was "available only as a result of decisions of individual parents," there was no "imprimatur of state approval." The Court noted that, with the exception of Nyquist, "all . . . of our recent cases invalidating state aid to parochial schools have involved the direct transmission of assistance from the State to the schools themselves." Thus Mueller seemingly stands for the proposition that state subsidies of tuition expenses at sectarian schools are permissible if contained in a facially neutral scheme providing benefits, at least nominally, to parents of public and private schoolchildren alike.
The Court confirmed this proposition three years later in Witters v. Washington Department of Social Services for the Blind. At issue was the constitutionality of a grant made by a state vocational rehabilitation program to a blind person who wanted to use the grant to attend a religious school and train for a religious ministry. Again, the Court emphasized that in the vocational rehabilitation program "any aid provided is 'made available without regard to the sectarian-nonsectarian, or public-nonpublic nature of the institution benefited"' and "ultimately flows to religious institutions ... only as a result of the genuinely independent and private choices of aid recipients." The program, the Court stated, did not have the purpose of providing support for nonpublic, sectarian institutions; created no financial incentive for students to undertake religious education; and gave recipients "full opportunity to expend vocational rehabiiltation aid on wholly secular education." "In this case," the Court found, "the fact that the aid goes to individuals means that the decision to support religious education is made by the individual, not by the State." Finally, the Court concluded, there was no evidence that "any significant portion of the aid expended under the Washington program as a whole will end up flowing to religious education."
In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District the Court re-affirmed this line of reasoning. The case involved the provision of a sign language interpreter pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to a deaf high school student who wanted to attend a Catholic high school. In upholding the assistance as constitutional, the Court emphasized that "the service at issue in this case is part of a general government program that distributes benefits neutrally to any child qualifying as 'handicapped' under the IDEA, without regard to the 'sectarian-nonsectarian, or public-nonpublic nature' of the school the child attends." Thus, it held that the presence of the interpreter in the sectarian school resulted not from a decision of the state but from the "private decision of individual parents."
Finally, the Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris reinterpreted the genuine private choice criterion in a manner that seems to render most voucher programs constitutional. At issue in the case was an Ohio program providing vouchers to the parents of children in failing public schools in Cleveland for use at private schools in the city. The Court upheld the program notwithstanding that, as in Nyquist, most of the schools at which the vouchers could be redeemed were religious and most of the voucher students attended such schools. But the Court found that the program still involved "true private choice." "Cleveland schoolchildren," the Court said, "enjoy a range of educational choices: They may remain in public school as before, remain in public school with publicly funded tutoring aid, obtain a scholarship and choose a religious school, obtain a scholarship and choose a nonreligious private school, enroll in a community school, or enroll in a magnet school. That 46 of the 56 private schools now participating in the program are religious schools does not condemn it as a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause question is whether Ohio is coercing parents into sending their children to religious schools, and that question must be answered by evaluating all of the options Ohio provides Cleveland schoolchildren, only one of which is to obtain a program scholarship and then choose a religious school."
In contrast to its rulings concerning direct aid to sectarian elementary and secondary schools, the Court, although closely divided at times, has from the start approved quite extensive public assistance to institutions of higher learning. On the same day that it first struck down an assistance program for elementary and secondary private schools, the Court sustained construction grants to church-related colleges and universities. The specific grants in question were for construction of two library buildings, a science building, a music, drama, and arts building, and a language laboratory. The law prohibited the financing of any facility for, or the use of any federally-financed building for, religious purposes, although the restriction on use ran for only twenty years. The Court found that the purpose and effect of the grants were secular and that, unlike elementary and secondary schools, religious colleges were not so devoted to inculcating religion. The supervision required to ensure conformance with the non-religious-use requirement was found not to constitute "excessive entanglement," inasmuch as a building is nonideological in character, unlike teachers, and inasmuch as the construction grants were onetime things and did not continue as did the state programs.
Also sustained was a South Carolina program under which a state authority would issue revenue bonds for construction projects on campuses of private colleges and universities. The Court did not decide whether this special form of assistance could be otherwise sustained, because it concluded that religion was neither advanced nor inhibited, nor was there any impermissible public entanglement. "Aid normally may be thought to have a primary effect of advancing religion when it flows to an institution in which religion is so pervasive that a substantial portion of its functions are subsumed in the religious mission or when it funds a specifically religious activity in an otherwise substantially secular setting." The colleges involved, though they were affiliated with religious institutions, were not shown to be so pervasively religious-no religious test existed for faculty or student body, a substantial part of the student body was not of the religion of the affiliation -and state law precluded the use of any state-financed project for religious activities.
The kind of assistance permitted by Tilton and by Hunt v. McNair seems to have been broadened when the Court sustained a Maryland program of annual subsidies to qualifying private institutions of higher education; the grants were noncategorical but could not be used for sectarian purposes, a limitation to be policed by the administering agency. The plurality opinion found a secular purpose; found that the limitation of funding to secular activities was meaningful, since the religiously affiliated institutions were not so pervasively sectarian that secular activities could not be separated from sectarian ones; and determined that excessive entanglement was improbable, given the fact that aided institutions were not pervasively sectarian. The annual nature of the subsidy was recognized as posing the danger of political entanglement, but the plurality thought that the character of the aided institutions- "capable of separating secular and religious functions"- was more important.
Finally, in the only case since Bradfield v. Roberts to challenge the constitutionality of public aid to non-educational religious institutions, the Court in Bowen v. Kendrick by a 5-4 vote upheld the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) against facial challenge. The Act permits direct grants to religious organizations for provision of health care and for counseling of adolescents on matters of pregnancy prevention and abortion alternatives, and requires grantees to involve other community groups, including religious organizations, in delivery of services. All of the Justices agreed that AFLA had valid secular purposes; their disagreement related to application of the effects and entanglement tests. The Court relied on analogy to the higher education cases rather than the cases involving aid to elementary and secondary schools. The case presented conflicting factual considerations. On the one hand, the class of beneficiaries was broad, with religious groups not predominant among the wide range of eligible community organizations. On the other hand, there were analogies to the parochial school aid cases: secular and religious teachings might easily be mixed, and the age of the targeted group (adolescents) suggested susceptibility. The Court resolved these conflicts by holding that AFLA is facially valid, there being insufficient indication that a significant proportion of the AFLA funds would be disbursed to "pervasively sectarian" institutions, but by remanding to the district court to determine whether particular grants to pervasively sectarian institutions were invalid. The Court emphasized in both parts of its opinion that the fact that "views espoused [during counseling] on matters of premarital sex, abortion, and the like happen to coincide with the religious views of the AFLA grantee would not be sufficient to show [an Establishment Clause violation]."
At the time it was rendered, Bowen differed from the Court's decisions concerning direct aid to sectarian elementary and secondary schools primarily in that it refused to presume that religiously affiliated social welfare entities are pervasively sectarian. That difference had the effect of giving greater constitutional latitude to public aid to such entities than was afforded direct aid to religious elementary and secondary schools. As noted above, the Court in its recent decisions has now eliminated the presumption that such religious schools are pervasively sectarian and has extended the same constitutional latitude to aid programs benefiting such schools as it gives to aid programs benefiting religiously affiliated social welfare programs.
Governmental Encouragement of Religion in Public Schools: Released Time.- Introduction of religious education into the public schools, one of Justice Rutledge's "great drives," has also occasioned a substantial amount of litigation in the Court. In its first two encounters, the Court voided one program and upheld another, in which the similarities were at least as significant as the differences. Both cases involved "released time" programs, the establishing of a period during which pupils in public schools were to be allowed, upon parental request, to receive religious instruction. In the first, the religious classes were conducted during regular school hours in the school building by outside teachers furnished by a religious council representing the various faiths, subject to the approval or supervision of the superintendent of schools. Attendance reports were kept and reported to the school authorities in the same way as for other classes, and pupils not attending the religious instruction classes were required to continue their regular studies. "The operation of the State's compulsory education system thus assists and is integrated with the program of religious instruction carried on by separate religious sects. Pupils compelled by law to go to school for secular education are released in part from their legal duty upon the condition that they attend the religious classes. This is beyond all question a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith. And it falls squarely under the ban of the First Amendment . . . ." The case was also noteworthy because of the Court's express rejection of the contention "that historically the First Amendment was intended to forbid only government preference of one religion over another, not an impartial governmental assistance of all religions."
Four years later, the Court upheld a different released-time program. In this one, schools released pupils during school hours, on written request of their parents, so that they might leave the school building and go to religious centers for religious instruction or devotional exercises. The churches reported to the schools the names of children released from the public schools who did not report for religious instruction; children not released remained in the classrooms for regular studies. The Court found the differences between this program and the program struck down in McCollum to be constitutionally significant. Unlike McCollum, where "the classrooms were used for religious instruction and force of the public school was used to promote that instruction," religious instruction was conducted off school premises and "the public schools do no more than accommodate their schedules." "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," Justice Douglas wrote for the Court. "When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe."
Governmental Encouragement of Religion in Public Schools: Prayers and Bible Reading. -Upon recommendation of the state governing board, a local New York school required each class to begin each school day by reading aloud the following prayer in the presence of the teacher: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country." Students who wished to do so could remain silent or leave the room. Said the Court: "We think that by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents' prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. There can, of course, be no doubt that New York's program of daily classroom invocation of God's blessings as prescribed in the Regents' prayer is a religious activity.... [W]e think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no 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." "Neither the fact that the prayer may be nondenominationally neutral nor the fact that its observance on the part of the students is voluntary can serve to free it from the limitations of the Establishment Clause, as it might from the Free Exercise Clause....
The Establishment Clause . . . does not depend upon any showing of direct governmental compulsion and is violated by the enactment of laws which establish an official religion whether those laws operate directly to coerce nonobserving individuals or not."
Following the prayer decision came two cases in which parents and their school age children challenged the validity under the Establishment Clause of requirements that each school day begin with readings of selections from the Bible. Scripture reading, like prayers, the Court found, was a religious exercise. "Given that finding the exercises and the law requiring them are in violation of the Establishment Clause." Rejected were contentions by the State that the object of the programs was the promotion of secular purposes, such as the expounding of moral values, the contradiction of the materialistic trends of the times, the perpetuation of traditional institutions, and the teaching of literature and that to forbid the particular exercises was to choose a "religion of secularism" in their place. Though the "place of religion in our society is an exalted one," the Establishment Clause, the Court continued, prescribed that in "the relationship between man and religion," the State must be "firmly committed to a position of neutrality."
While numerous efforts were made over the years to overturn these cases, through constitutional amendment and through limitations on the Court's jurisdiction, the Supreme Court itself has had no occasion to review the area again. But see Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) (summarily reversing state court and invalidating statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments, purchased with private contributions, on the wall of each public classroom, on the grounds the Ten Commandments are "undeniably a sacred text" and the "pre-eminent purpose" of the posting requirement was "plainly religious in nature").
In Wallace v. Jaffree, the Court held invalid an Alabama statute authorizing a 1-minute period of silence in all public schools "for meditation or prayer." Because the only evidence in the record indicated that the words "or prayer" had been added to the existing statute by amendment for the sole purpose of returning voluntary prayer to the public schools, the Court found that the first prong of the Lemon test had been violated, i.e. that the statute was invalid as being entirely motivated by a purpose of advancing religion. The Court characterized the legislative intent to return prayer to the public schools as "quite different from merely protecting every student's right to engage in voluntary prayer during an appropriate moment of silence during the schoolday," and both Justices Powell and O'Connor in concurring opinions suggested that other state statutes authorizing moments of silence might pass constitutional muster.
The school prayer decisions served as precedent for the Court's holding in Lee v. Weisman that a school-sponsored invocation at a high school commencement violated the Establishment Clause. The Court rebuffed a request to reexamine the Lemon test, finding "[t]he government involvement with religious activity in this case [to be] pervasive, to the point of creating a state-sponsored and state-directed religious exercise in a public school." State officials not only determined that an invocation and benediction should be given, but also selected the religious participant and provided him with guidelines for the content of nonsectarian prayers. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, viewed this state participation as coercive in the elementary and secondary school setting. The state "in effect required participation in a religious exercise," since the option of not attending "one of life's most significant occasions" was no real choice. "At a minimum," the Court concluded, the Establishment Clause "guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise."
In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe the Court held a school district's policy permitting high school students to vote on whether to have an "invocation and/or prayer" delivered prior to home football games by a student elected for that purpose to violate the establishment clause. It found the policy to violate each one of the tests it has formulated for establishment clause cases. The preference given for an "invocation" in the text of the school district's policy, the long history of pre-game prayer led by a student "chaplain" in the school district, and the widespread perception that "the policy is about prayer," the Court said, made clear that its purpose was not secular but was to preserve a popular state- sponsored religious practice in violation of the first prong of the Lemon test. Moreover, it said, the policy violated the coercion test by forcing unwilling students into participating in a religious exercise. Some students - the cheerleaders, the band, football players - had to attend, it noted, and others were compelled to do so by peer pressure. "The constitutional command will not permit the District 'to exact religious conformity from a student as the price' of joining her classmates at a varsity football game," the Court held. Finally, it said, the speech sanctioned by the policy was not private speech but government-sponsored speech that would be perceived as a government endorsement of religion. The long history of pre-game prayer, the bias toward religion in the policy itself, the fact that the message would be "delivered to a large audience assembled as part of a regularly scheduled, school- sponsored function conducted on school property" and over the school's public address system, the Court asserted, all meant that the speech was not genuine private speech but would be perceived as "stamped with the school's seal of approval." The Court concluded that "the policy is invalid on its face because it establishes an improper majoritarian election on religion, and unquestionably has the purpose and creates the perception of encouraging the delivery of prayer at a series of important school events."
Governmental Encouragement of Religion in Public Schools: Curriculum Restriction.- In Epperson v. Arkansas, the Court struck down a state statute which made it unlawful for any teacher in any state-supported educational institution "to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals," or "to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches" this theory. Agreeing that control of the curriculum of the public schools was largely in the control of local officials, the Court nonetheless held that the motivation of the statute was a fundamentalist belief in the literal reading of the Book of Genesis and that this motivation and result required the voiding of the law. "The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First . . . Amendment to the Constitution."
Similarly invalidated as having the improper purpose of advancing religion was a Louisiana statute mandating balanced treatment of "creation-science" and "evolution-science" in the public schools. "The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana legislature," the Court found in Edwards v. Aguillard, "was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created human-kind." The Court viewed as a "sham" the stated purpose of protecting academic freedom, and concluded instead that the legislature's purpose was to narrow the science curriculum in order to discredit evolution "by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creation science."
Access of Religious Groups to Public Property
Access of Religious Groups to Public Property.-Although government may not promote religion through its educational facilities, it may not bar student religious groups from meeting on public school property if it makes those facilities available to non-religious student groups. In the case of Widmar v. Vincent the Court held that allowing student religious groups equal access to a public college's facilities would further a secular purpose, would not constitute an impermissible benefit to religion, and would pose little hazard of entanglement. Subsequently, the Court has held that these principles apply to public secondary schools as well as to institutions of higher learning. In Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens in 1990 the Court upheld application of the Equal Access Act to prevent a secondary school from denying access to school premises to a student religious club while granting access to such other "noncurriculum" related student groups as a scuba diving club, a chess club, and a service club. Justice O'Connor stated in a plurality opinion that "there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion and private speech endorsing religion. We think that secondary school students are mature enough and are likely to understand that a school does not endorse or support student speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis."
Similarly, public schools may not rely on the Establishment Clause as grounds to discriminate against religious groups in after-hours use of school property otherwise available for non-religious social, civic, and recreational purposes. In Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches School District, the Court held that a school district could not, consistent with the free speech clause, refuse to allow a religious group to use school facilities to show a film series on family life when the facilities were otherwise available for community use. "It discriminates on the basis of viewpoint," the Court ruled, "to permit school property to be used for the presentation of all views about family issues and child- rearing except those dealing with the subject matter from a religious viewpoint." In response to the school district's claim that the establishment clause required it to deny use of its facilities to a religious group, the Court said that there was "no realistic danger" in this instance that "the community would think that the District was endorsing religion or any particular creed" and that such permission would satisfy the requirements of the Lemon test. Similarly, in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Court held the free speech clause to be violated by a school policy that barred a religious children's club from meeting on school premises after school. Given that other groups teaching morals and character development to young children were allowed to use the school's facilities, the exclusion, the Court said, "constitutes unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination." Moreover, it said, the school had "no valid Establishment Clause interest" because permitting the religious club to meet would not show any favoritism toward religion but would simply "ensure neutrality."
Finally, the Court has made clear that public colleges may not exclude student religious organizations from benefits otherwise provided to a full spectrum of student "news, information, opinion, entertainment, or academic communications media groups." In Rosenberger v. Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, the Court struck down a university policy that afforded a school subsidy to all student publications except religious ones. Once again, the Court held the denial of the subsidy to constitute viewpoint discrimination violative of the free speech clause of the First Amendment. In response to the University's argument that the Establishment Clause required it not to subsidize an enterprise that promotes religion, the Court emphasized that the forum created by the University's subsidy policy had neither the purpose nor the effect of advancing religion and, because it was open to a variety of viewpoints, was neutral toward religion.
These cases make clear that the Establishment Clause does not necessarily trump the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech. In regulating private speech in a public forum, government may not justify discrimination against religious viewpoints as necessary to avoid creating an "establishment" of religion.
Tax Exemptions of Religious Property.-Every State and the District of Columbia provide for tax exemptions for religious institutions, and the history of such exemptions goes back to the time of our establishment as a polity. The only expression by a Supreme Court Justice prior to 1970 was by Justice Brennan, who deemed tax exemptions constitutional because the benefit conferred was incidental to the religious character of the institutions concerned. Then, in 1970, a nearly unanimous Court sustained a state exemption from real or personal property taxation of "property used exclusively for religious, educational or charitable purposes" owned by a corporation or association which was conducted exclusively for one or more of these purposes and did not operate for profit. The first prong of a two-prong argument saw the Court adopting Justice Brennan's rationale. Using the secular purpose and effect test, Chief Justice Burger noted that the purpose of the exemption was not to single out churches for special favor; instead, the exemption applied to a broad category of associations having many common features and all dedicated to social betterment. Thus, churches as well as museums, hospitals, libraries, charitable organizations, professional associations, and the like, all non-profit, and all having a beneficial and stabilizing influence in community life, were to be encouraged by being treated specially in the tax laws. The primary effect of the exemptions was not to aid religion; the primary effect was secular and any assistance to religion was merely incidental.
For the second prong, the Court created a new test, the entanglement test, by which to judge the program. There was some entanglement whether there were exemptions or not, Chief Justice Burger continued, but with exemptions there was minimal involvement. But termination of exemptions would deeply involve government in the internal affairs of religious bodies, because evaluation of religious properties for tax purposes would be required and there would be tax liens and foreclosures and litigation concerning such matters.
While the general issue is now settled, it is to be expected that variations of the exemption upheld in Walz will present the Court with an opportunity to elaborate the field still further. For example, the Court determined that a sales tax exemption applicable only to religious publications constituted a violation of the Establishment Clause, and, on the other hand, that application of a general sales and use tax provision to religious publications violates neither the Establishment Clause nor the Free Exercise Clause.
Exemption of Religious Organizations from Generally Applicable Laws.-The Civil Rights Act's exemption of religious organizations from the prohibition against religious discrimination in employment does not violate the Establishment Clause when applied to a religious organization's secular, nonprofit activities. The Court held in Corporation of the Presiding Bishop v. Amos that a church-run gymnasium operated as a nonprofit facility open to the public could require that its employees be church members. Declaring that "there is ample room for accommodation of religion under the Establishment Clause," the Court identified a legitimate purpose in freeing a religious organization from the burden of predicting which of its activities a court will consider to be secular and which religious. The rule applying across-the-board to nonprofit activities and thereby "avoid[ing] . . . intrusive inquiry into religious belief" also serves to lessen entanglement of church and state. The exemption itself does not have a principal effect of advancing religion, the Court concluded, but merely allows churches to advance religion.
Sunday Closing Laws.-The history of Sunday Closing Laws goes back into United States colonial history and far back into English history. Commonly, the laws require the observance of the Christian Sabbath as a day of rest, although in recent years they have tended to become honeycombed with exceptions. The Supreme Court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan v. Maryland. The Court acknowledged that historically the laws had a religious motivation and were designed to effectuate concepts of Christian theology. However, "[i]n light of the evolution of our Sunday Closing Laws through the centuries, and of their more or less recent emphasis upon secular considerations, it is not difficult to discern that as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character, and that presently they bear no relationship to establishment of religion...." "[T]he fact that this [prescribed day of rest] is Sunday, a day of particular significance for the dominant Christian sects, does not bar the State from achieving its secular goals. To say that the States cannot prescribe Sunday as a day of rest for these purposes solely because centuries ago such laws had their genesis in religion would give a constitutional interpretation of hostility to the public welfare rather than one of mere separation of church and State." The choice of Sunday as the day of rest, while originally religious, now reflected simple legislative inertia or recognition that Sunday was a traditional day for the choice. Valid secular reasons existed for not simply requiring one day of rest and leaving to each individual to choose the day, reasons of ease of enforcement and of assuring a common day in the community for rest and leisure. More recently, a state statute mandating that employers honor the Sabbath day of the employee's choice was held invalid as having the primary effect of promoting religion by weighing the employee's Sabbath choice over all other interests.
Conscientious Objection.-Historically, Congress has provided for alternative service for men who had religious scruples against participating in either combat activities or in all forms of military activities; the fact that Congress chose to draw the line of exemption on the basis of religious belief confronted the Court with a difficult constitutional question, which, however, the Court chose to avoid by a somewhat disingenuous interpretation of the statute. In Gillette v. United States, a further constitutional problem arose in which the Court did squarely confront and validate the congressional choice. Congress had restricted conscientious objection status to those who objected to "war in any form" and the Court conceded that there were religious or conscientious objectors who were not opposed to all wars but only to particular wars based upon evaluation of a number of factors by which the "justness" of any particular war could be judged; "properly construed," the Court said, the statute did draw a line relieving from military service some religious objectors while not relieving others. Purporting to apply the secular purpose and effect test, the Court looked almost exclusively to purpose and hardly at all to effect. Although it is not clear, the Court seemed to require that a classification must be religiously based "on its face" or lack any "neutral, secular basis for the lines government has drawn" in order that it be held to violate the Establishment Clause. The classification here was not religiously based "on its face," and served "a number of valid purposes having nothing to do with a design to foster or favor any sect, religion, or cluster of religions." These purposes, related to the difficulty in separating sincere conscientious objectors to particular wars from others with fraudulent claims, included the maintenance of a fair and efficient selective service system and protection of the integrity of democratic decision-making.
Regulation of Religious Solicitation.-Although the solicitation cases have generally been decided under the free exercise or free speech clauses, in one instance the Court, intertwining establishment and free exercise principles, voided a provision in a state charitable solicitations law that required only those religious organizations that received less than half their total contributions from members or affiliated organizations to comply with the registration and reporting sections of the law. Applying strict scrutiny equal protection principles, the Court held that by distinguishing between older, well-established churches that had strong membership financial support and newer bodies lacking a contributing constituency or that may favor public solicitation over general reliance on financial support from the members, the statute granted denominational preference forbidden by the Establishment Clause.
Religion in Governmental Observances.-The practice of opening legislative sessions with prayers by paid chaplains was upheld in Marsh v. Chambers, a case involving prayers in the Nebraska Legislature. The Court relied almost entirely on historical practice. Congress had paid a chaplain and opened sessions with prayers for almost 200 years; the fact that Congress had continued the practice after considering constitutional objections in the Court's view strengthened rather than weakened the historical argument. Similarly, the practice was well rooted in Nebraska and in most other states. Most importantly, the First Amendment had been drafted in the First Congress with an awareness of the chaplaincy practice, and this practice was not prohibited or discontinued. The Court did not address the lower court's findings, amplified in Justice Brennan's dissent, that each aspect of the Lemon v. Kurtzman tripartite test had been violated. Instead of constituting an application of the tests, therefore, Marsh can be read as representing an exception to their application.
Religious Displays on Government Property.-A different form of governmentally sanctioned religious observance-inclusion of religious symbols in governmentally sponsored holiday displays-was twice before the Court, with varying results. In 1984, in Lynch v. Donnelly, the Court found no violation of the Establishment Clause occasioned by inclusion of a Nativity scene (creche) in a city's Christmas display; in 1989, in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU, inclusion of a creche in a holiday display was found to constitute a violation. Also at issue in Allegheny County was inclusion of a menorah in a holiday display; here the Court found no violation. The setting of each display was crucial to the varying results in these cases, the determinant being whether the Court majority believed that the overall effect of the display was to emphasize the religious nature of the symbols, or whether instead the emphasis was primarily secular. Perhaps equally important for future cases, however, was the fact that the four dissenters in Allegheny County would have upheld both the creche and menorah displays under a more relaxed, deferential standard.
Chief Justice Burger's opinion for the Court in Lynch began by expanding on the religious heritage theme exemplified by Marsh; other evidence that "'[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being"' was supplied by reference to the national motto "In God We Trust," the affirmation "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance, and the recognition of both Thanksgiving and Christmas as national holidays. Against that background, the Court then determined that the city's inclusion of the creche in its Christmas display had a legitimate secular purpose in recognizing "the historical origins of this traditional event long [celebrated] as a National Holiday," and that its primary effect was not to advance religion. The benefit to religion was called "indirect, remote, and incidental," and in any event no greater than the benefit resulting from other actions that had been found to be permissible, e.g. the provision of transportation and textbooks to parochial school students, various assistance to church-supported colleges, Sunday closing laws, and legislative prayers. The Court also reversed the lower court's finding of entanglement based only on "political divisiveness."
Allegheny County was also decided by a 5-4 vote, Justice Blackmun writing the opinion of the Court on the creche issue, and there being no opinion of the Court on the menorah issue. To the majority, the setting of the creche was distinguishable from that in Lynch. The creche stood alone on the center staircase of the county courthouse, bore a sign identifying it as the donation of a Roman Catholic group, and also had an angel holding a banner proclaiming "Gloria in Exclesis Deo." Nothing in the display "detract[ed] from the creche's religious message," and the overall effect was to endorse that religious message. The menorah, on the other hand, was placed outside a government building alongside a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty, and bore no religious messages. To Justice Blackmun, this grouping merely recognized "that both Christmas and Chanukah are part of the same winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status"; to concurring Justice O'Connor, the display's "message of pluralism" did not endorse religion over nonreligion even though Chanukah is primarily a religious holiday and even though the menorah is a religious symbol. The dissenters, critical of the endorsement test proposed by Justice O'Connor and of the three-part Lemon test, would instead distill two principles from the Establishment Clause: "government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in any religion or its exercise; and it may not, in the guise of avoiding hostility or callous indifference, give direct benefits to religion in such a degree that it in fact 'establishes a state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so."'
In Capitol Square Review Bd. v. Pinette, the Court distinguished privately sponsored from governmentally sponsored religious displays on public property. There the Court ruled that Ohio violated free speech rights by refusing to allow the Ku Klux Klan to display an unattended cross in a publicly owned plaza outside the Ohio Statehouse. Because the plaza was a public forum in which the State had allowed a broad range of speakers and a variety of unattended displays, the State could regulate the expressive content of such speeches and displays only if the restriction was necessary, and narrowly drawn, to serve a compelling state interest. The Court recognized that compliance with the Establishment Clause can be a sufficiently compelling reason to justify content-based restrictions on speech, but saw no need to apply this principle when permission to display a religious symbol is granted through the same procedures, and on the same terms, required of other private groups seeking to convey non-religious messages.
Miscellaneous.-In Larkin v. Grendel's Den, the Court held that the Establishment Clause is violated by a delegation of governmental decisionmaking to churches. At issue was a state statute permitting any church or school to block issuance of a liquor license to any establishment located within 500 feet of the church or school. While the statute had a permissible secular purpose of protecting churches and schools from the disruptions often associated with liquor establishments, the Court indicated that these purposes could be accomplished by other means, e.g. an outright ban on liquor outlets within a prescribed distance, or the vesting of discretionary authority in a governmental decisionmaker required to consider the views of affected parties. However, the conferral of a veto authority on churches had a primary effect of advancing religion both because the delegation was standardless (thereby permitting a church to exercise the power to promote parochial interests), and because "the mere appearance of a joint exercise of legislative authority by Church and State provides a significant symbolic benefit to religion in the minds of some." Moreover, the Court determined, because the veto "enmeshes churches in the processes of government," it represented an entanglement offensive to the "core rationale underlying the Establishment Clause"- "[to prevent] 'a fusion of governmental and religious functions."'
Using somewhat similar reasoning, the Court in Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village v. Grumet, invalidated a New York law creating a special school district for an incorporated village composed exclusively of members of one small religious sect. The statute failed "the test of neutrality," the Court concluded, since it delegated power "to an electorate defined by common religious belief and practice, in a manner that fails to foreclose religious favoritism." It was the "anomalously case-specific nature of the legislature's exercise of authority" that left the Court "without any direct way to review such state action" for conformity with the neutrality principle. Because the village did not receive its governmental authority simply as one of many communities eligible under a general law, the Court explained, there was no way of knowing whether the legislature would grant similar benefits on an equal basis to other religious and nonreligious groups.
Free Exercise of Religion
"The Free Exercise Clause . . . withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions there by civil authority." It bars "governmental regulation of religious beliefs as such," prohibiting misuse of secular governmental programs "to impede the observance of one or all religions or . . . to discriminate invidiously between religions . . . even though the burden may be characterized as being only indirect." Freedom of conscience is the basis of the free exercise clause, and government may not penalize or discriminate against an individual or a group of individuals because of their religious views nor may it compel persons to affirm any particular beliefs. Interpretation is complicated, however, by the fact that exercise of religion usually entails ritual or other practices that constitute "conduct" rather than pure "belief." When it comes to protecting conduct as free exercise, the Court has been inconsistent. It has long been held that the Free Exercise Clause does not necessarily prevent government from requiring the doing of some act or forbidding the doing of some act merely because religious beliefs underlie the conduct in question. What has changed over the years is the Court's willingness to hold that some religiously motivated conduct is protected from generally applicable prohibitions.
The relationship between the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses varies with the expansiveness of interpretation of the two clauses. In a general sense both clauses proscribe governmental involvement with and interference in religious matters, but there is possible tension between a requirement of governmental neutrality derived from the Establishment Clause and a Free-Exercise-derived requirement that government accommodate some religious practices. So far, the Court has harmonized interpretation by denying that free- exercise-mandated accommodations create establishment violations, and also by upholding some legislative accommodations not mandated by free exercise requirements. "This Court has long recognized that government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices and that it may do so without violating the Establishment Clause." In holding that a state could not deny unemployment benefits to Sabbatarians who refused Saturday work, for example, the Court denied that it was "fostering an 'establishment' of the Seventh- Day Adventist religion, for the extension of unemployment benefits to Sabbatarians in common with Sunday worshippers reflects nothing more than the governmental obligation of neutrality in the face of religious differences, and does not represent that involvement of religious with secular institutions which it is the object of the Establishment Clause to forestall." Legislation granting religious exemptions not held to have been required by the Free Exercise Clause has also been upheld against Establishment Clause challenge, although it is also possible for legislation to go too far in promoting free exercise.
"Play in the joints" can work both ways, the Court ruled in upholding a state's exclusion of theology students from a college scholarship program. Although the state could have included theology students in its scholarship program without offending the Establishment Clause, its choice not to fund religious training did not of-fend the Free Exercise Clause even though that choice singled out theology students for exclusion. Refusal to fund religious training, the Court observed, was "far milder" than restrictions on religious practices that have been held to offend the Free Exercise Clause.
The Belief-Conduct Distinction
While the Court has consistently affirmed that the Free Exercise Clause protects religious beliefs, protection for religiously motivated conduct has waxed and waned over the years. The Free Exercise Clause "embraces two concepts-freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute, but in the nature of things, the second cannot be." In its first free exercise case, involving the power of government to prohibit polygamy, the Court invoked a hard distinction between the two, saying that although laws "cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices." The rule thus propounded protected only belief, inasmuch as religiously motivated action was to be subjected to the police power of the state to the same extent as would similar action springing from other motives. The Reynolds no-protection rule was applied in a number of cases, but later cases established that religiously grounded conduct is not always outside the protection of the free exercise clause. Instead, the Court began to balance the secular interest asserted by the government against the claim of religious liberty asserted by the person affected; only if the governmental interest was "compelling" and if no alternative forms of regulation would serve that interest was the claimant required to yield. Thus, while freedom to engage in religious practices was not absolute, it was entitled to considerable protection.
Recent cases evidence a narrowing of application of the compelling interest test, and a corresponding constriction on the freedom to engage in religiously motivated conduct. First, the Court purported to apply strict scrutiny, but upheld the governmental action anyhow. Next the Court held that the test is inappropriate in the contexts of military and prison discipline.