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Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Twp.
[330 U.S. 1]
Vinson Court,  Decided 5-4,  2/10/1947
Read the actual decision


Chief Justice Frederick M. VinsonIn the first ever case involving the constitutional issues swirling around public schools and religion, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether or not it was permissible for individual localities to spend tax dollars on services to private parochial schools.

At issue was the Ewing Township (NJ) decision to reimburse parents -- including those whose children attended Catholic schools -- for bus transportation to and from school. The suit was brought by one Arch Everson, a resident who objected to his tax dollars being spent on what, in his view, was the unconstitutional support of religion.

The initial thoughts of the justices flowed uniformly in one direction, using as precedence the writings of Jefferson and Madison, specifically Madison's attempts to overturn a Virginia tax destined for the support of the then-established state church. Madison's well-regarded "Memorial and Remonstrance" stated, in part, that a true religion needed no support of law, and that no person -- believer or nonbeliever -- should be taxed to support a religious institution of any kind. Along this line of thought, the tax in question might well be found unconstitutional.

But that having been said, the Court promptly upheld the New Jersey law, simply because it was applied uniformly to all parents having children in school and having a need for bus transportation to and from. In writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black pointed out that the First Amendment requires the state to be neutral in its stance on religion; it does not require it to be adversarial. In this case, since the tax money in question is not contributed to or used in direct support of a specific religious school but, rather in a general program of support for parents of all religions, the statute does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Besides having begun to define the "wall" between church and state in the education sphere, Everson was also the first opportunity for the Court to establish that the Fourteenth Amendment required the religion clauses of the Bill of Rights to be applied to the states -- one of the last pieces of the Bill of Rights not yet addressed with regard to the Fourteenth.


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Other decisions pertaining to Religion:

Abingdon School District v. Schempp    [374 U.S. 203 (1963)]  Warren Court
Allegheny County v. ACLU    [492 U.S. 573 (1989)]  Rehnquist Court
Cantwell v. Connecticut    [310 U.S. 296 (1940)]  Hughes Court
Engel v. Vitale    [370 U.S. 421 (1962)]  Warren Court
Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc.    [105 S.Ct. 2914 (1985) (1905)]  Burger Court
Illinois ex rel McCollum v. Board of Education    [333 U.S. 203 (1948)]  Vinson Court
Lemon v. Kurzman    [403 U.S. 602 (1971)]  Burger Court
Lynch v. Donnelly    [465 U.S. 668 (1984)]  Burger Court
Marsh v. Chambers    [463 U.S. 783 (1905)]  Burger Court
Mueller v. Allen    [463 U.S. 388 (1905)]  Burger Court
Palko v. Connecticut    [302 U.S. 319 (1937)]  Hughes Court
Pierce v. Society of Sisters    [268 U.S. 510 (1925)]  Taft Court
Reynolds v. United States    [98 U.S. 145 (1879)]  Waite Court
Selective Draft Law Cases    [245 U.S. 366 (1918)]  White Court
TWA v. Hardison    [432 U.S. 63 (1905)]  Burger Court
United States v. Lee    [455 U.S. 252 (1905)]  Burger Court
United States v. Seeger    [380 U.S. 164 (1905)]  Warren Court
Wallace v. Jaffree    [472 U.S. 38 (1985)]  Burger Court
Walz v. Tax Commission    [397 U.S. 664 (1970)]  Burger Court
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette    [319 U.S. 624 (1943)]  Stone Court
Widmar v. Vincent    [454 U.S. 263 (1905)]  Burger Court
Wisconsin v. Yoder    [406 U.S. 205 (1972)]  Burger Court

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