A Minnesota law allowed parents to deduct from their state income taxes any expenses from
school tuition, textbooks, or transportation for their children. This covered
elementary and secondary students and was available regardless of whether the children
attended public or private (including parochial) schools. The Court was to decide
whether this offered unconstitutional aid to religious schools.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, allowed the deductions to be made by parents with
students attending religious schools.
Majority Opinion: (Justice Rehnquist)|
The Court used the Lemon test to analyze the tax deductions offered by Minnesota.
The state’s decision was both understandable and secular. There is a public interest in
having an educated populace, and by extension there is a benefit from having healthy
private schools. This is one of many deductions offered by the state and is available
to all parents. For the deduction to be unavailable to parents of children in religious
schools would be hostile to religion. The benefits felt by religious schools is
indirect and results from the ‘numerous private choices’ of parents. The state is still
leaving the choice with parents concerning where their children are to attend school.
Some allege that to disallow deductions for religious textbooks (as the Minnesota law
does) will force the government to become entangled with the religious school as they
must monitor which textbooks are appropriate. However, the Court points to other
provisions which the State must enforce in religious schools without becoming entangled
with the religions.
So long as the benefit to religious schools is indirect (parents had the ultimate
decision), then an exemption offered to other students must be available to students in
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