Following are excerpts from the Supreme Court's decisions yesterday prohibiting use of tax money to pay for remedial and enrichment classes for religious schools.
School District of the City of Grand Rapids v. Ball, et al.
Justice William J. Brennan, joined by Justices Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell Jr. and John Paul Stevens, writing the court's opinion:
Providing for the education of schoolchildren is surely a praiseworthy purpose. But our cases have consistently recognized that even such a praiseworthy, secular purpose cannot validate government aid to parochial schools when the aid has the effect of promoting a single religion or religion generally or when the aid unduly entangles the government . . . .
For just as religion throughout history has provided spiritual comfort, guidance and inspiration to many, it can also serve powerfully to divide societies and to exclude those whose beliefs are not in accord with particular religions or sects that have from time to time achieved dominance.
The solution to this problem adopted by the Framers and consistently recognized by this court is jealously to guard the right of every individual to worship according to the dictates of conscience while requiring the government to maintain a course of neutrality among religions, and between religion and nonreligion.
The challenged public school programs operating in the religious schools may impermissibly advance religion in three different ways. First, the teachers participating in the programs may become involved in intentionally or inadvertently inculcating particular religious tenets or beliefs. Second, the programs may provide a crucial symbolic link between government and religion.
Third, the programs may have the effect of directly promoting religion by impermissibly providing a subsidy to the primary religious mission of the institutions affected.
Aguilar v. Felton.
Justice Powell, concurring:
Public schools, as well as private schools, are under increasing financial pressure to meet real and perceived needs. Thus, any proposal to extend direct governmental aid to parochial schools alone is likely to spark political disagreement from taxpayers who support the public schools, as well as from nonrecipient sectarian groups, who may fear that needed funds are being diverted from them.
In short, aid to parochial schools of the sort at issue here potentially leads to that kind and degree of governmental involvement in religious life that, as history teaches us, is apt to lead to strife and frequently strain a political system to the breaking point.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, joined by Justice William H. Rehnquist, dissenting:
The only disadvantaged children who lose under the court's holding are those in cities where it is not economically and logistically feasible to provide public facilities for remedial education adjacent to the parochial school. But this subset is significant, for it includes more than 20,000 New York City schoolchildren and uncounted others elsewhere in the country.
For these children, the court's decision is tragic. The court deprives them of a program that offers a meaningful chance at success in life, and it does so on the untenable theory that public schoolteachers (most of whom are of different faiths than their students) are likely to start teaching religion merely because they have walked across the threshold of a parochial school.
I reject this theory . . . . I cannot close my eyes to the fact that, over almost two decades, New York's public schoolteachers have helped thousands of impoverished parochial schoolchildren . . . without once attempting to inculcate religion.
Their praiseworthy efforts have not eroded and do not threaten the religious liberty assured by the Establishment Clause.