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Meek v. Pittinger

421 U.S. 395 (1975)

Facts of the Case:

Three Pennsylvania statutes were challenged for allegedly violating the Establishment Clause. First, textbooks appropriate for secular schools could be purchased for students in private schools. Also, the state offered remedial help for non-public school students. This took the form of speech and hearing therapy or a variety of psychological services. Finally, schools were provided instructional materials including projectors, recorders, and laboratory paraphernalia.


The Court permitted Pennsylvania to purchase textbooks for non-public school students, but did not allow for the purchase of instructional materials or the supplication of special needs instructors.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Stewart)

The textbook loan program is permissible just as a similar one was allowed in Allen. Only those books that can be used in secular classes may be purchased with the money. The loaning of instructional material to private schools is unconstitutional because it directly aids religion. The materials could easily be used by the schools as part of their religious education. Likewise, the supplying of staff to assist students with special needs in religious schools improperly benefits religion. In order for the State to ensure that these employees teach only secular ideologies, the government would have to become excessively entangled with the religious schools. Even if the fostering of religious ideas is unintentional, it still is in violation of the Establishment Clause. “The fact that the teachers and counselors providing auxiliary services are employees of the public intermediate unit, rather than of the church-related schools in which they work, does not substantially eliminate the need for continuing surveillance…but they are performing important educational services in schools in which education is an integral part of the dominant sectarian mission and in which an atmosphere dedicated to the advancement of religious belief is constantly maintained.”


The first part of this decision is consistent with past cases in allowing secular textbooks to be provided for non-public school students. The other two parts are not permitted because the religious education might benefit. When this potential exists, it is inappropriate to ask the State to ensure that the goods supplied are used only for secular education because enforcement would lead to entanglement.


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