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Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist
413 U.S. 756 (1973)


Facts of the Case:

A New York law offered grants to non-public schools that served a large number of low-income students. The money was given for the maintenance of school facilities. Additionally, low-income parents were given tuition reimbursements. Those parents who failed to qualify for the reimbursements were offered tax-deductions for their tuition costs. The legislature wanted to offer all parents a choice in their child’s education and feared that a decline in non-public school education would lead to overcrowding in public schools.

Decision:

The Court found all three sections of the New York legislation unconstitutional. Each of the three parts has the primary effect of furthering religion.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Powell)

The “maintenance and repair” part of the law is unconstitutional because it has the primary effect of aiding religion. There is no way to ensure that the money is only used for maintaining secular facilities. The tuition reimbursement also has aids religion. As with the first section, the State cannot limit the use of tuition funds to only secular purposes. The reimbursements act as an incentive for parents to send their children to private schools. The tax-deduction program in unconstitutional for the same reasons as the low-come grant program.

Dissenting Opinion: (Justice Burger:)

In previous cases including Everson (Everson)and Board of Ed. V Allen (Allen) the Court clearly ruled that some aid to private and religious schools did not violate the Establishment Clause.  This statute should be declared constitutional based on the same guiding principle that previously allowed for government aid to parochial schools, namely, the furthering of the aim of education.

Significance:

Although it professes to do otherwise, this decision takes a less literal view of the challenged legislation to determine who the beneficiaries are. In earlier cases the states were permitted to provide buses and textbooks for children in public schools because the students were the beneficiaries. In this case, although money may go to parents to be used for tuition, the Court determined that the non-public schools were the ultimate beneficiaries.

  

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