Everson v. Board of Education

Following is the case brief for Everson v. Board of Education, Supreme Court of the United States, (1947)

Case summary for Everson v. Board of Education:

  • Everson challenged a state statute on First Amendment grounds, which equally allocated funding from tax payers to provide transportation to students who attend public in addition to students who attend parochial schools.
  • The state court found for the school district, claiming the law did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
  • The Court held that the state program that funds student transportation to parochial schools as part of its general program does not violate the Establishment Clause.
  • This was because the program was applied equally to students attending public and parochial schools and the purposeful exclusion could result in inhibiting people’s freedom to exercise their religion.

Everson v. Board of Education Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

A state statute authorized school districts to create contracts on the transporting of children both to and home from school. Under the state law, a school board issues a resolution permitting a reimbursement to the parents of those children attending parochial schools for monies used to put their children on a public bus. State resident Everson, challenged this resolution as a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by bringing an action against the school board of Ewing Township.

Procedural History:

On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court found for the school board. Everson appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States and the Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A state may not refuse to include institutions of religion in subsidy programs that are general in nature as this could impact the “free exercise of religion” for state citizens.

Issue and Holding:

Does a state transportation program which applies in uniform to students of both parochial and public schools violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause? No.

Judgment:

The Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

Reasoning:

The First Amendment of the Constitution does not bar the state of New Jersey from allocating public funds to pay the transportation costs of students attending parochial schools in the same way it pays for children attending public schools.

The Court held that although the First Amendment requires a state to stay neutral regarding their treatment of religious institutions, it also prohibits a state from directing hostility towards a religion in a manner which interferes with its citizen’s free exercise of religion. Specifically, the Establishment Clause prohibits a state from creating a law which “respects the establishment of religion.”

This concept must be balanced against the Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits the inhibiting of “the free exercise of religion.”

Here, New Jersey did not use taxpayer’s money to pay for parochial school programs directly, but provided an equal funding transportation program. If New Jersey failed to fund the transportation of students in parochial schools, operation of the school itself would become significantly more difficult.

Denial of funds could equate to discouraging religious students from attending parochial schools. This would result in inhibiting their freedom to exercise their religion.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Dissenting (Rutledge):

The intent behind the First Amendment was to create a complete separation between church and state. The majority’s opinion is contrary to the framer’s intent and violates the principle of absolute separation of church and state because it allows a transportation program which indirectly funds private schools with money from the tax paying public.

Dissenting (Jackson):

The Majority’s opinion seems as odds with its desire to erect a wall between church and state.

Significance:

Everson v. Board of Education helped establish the analysis behind the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to state laws. No law can be created to promote or inhibit religion and a state law which provides all students equal access to affordable transportation results in neither.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/330/1/case.html
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/330/1

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