The Religious Freedom Page

Tilton v. Richardson

403 U.S. 672 (1971)

Facts of the Case:

The Federal Higher Education Facility Act of 1963 gave construction grants to church- sponsored higher education institutes. The money had to be used to construct non- religious school facilities. The act stipulated that after twenty years, the school could use the facilities for whatever purpose they chose.


By a 5-4 vote, the Court decided that the grants for non-religious school facilities did not violate the Establishment Clause. By an 8-1 vote, it decided that the provision limiting the state’s interest to twenty years was unconstitutional.

Majority Opinion: (Chief Justice Burger)

The primary effect of the Higher Education Facility Act was not to aid religious institutes. The objective was to encourage education among the country’s youth. In an earlier case (Bradfield v. Rob) the Court decided that not all financial aid to church-sponsored activities violates the religious clauses of the constitution. The beneficiaries of the act are secondary schools in which children are not as susceptible to religious coercion and in which religious instruction is not as central to the curriculum. Because the State’s interest in the structure remains after twenty years, the provision giving the schools the ability to use the facility for religious purposes is unconstitutional. This finding does not require the invalidating of the entire act because it was not essential to the whole law. The HEFA did not lead to excessive entanglement because the aid was aimed at religiously neutral facilities. Also, the aid was non-ideological and was a one-time, single-purpose program. The taxpayers’ rights were not violated by the act because there was no coercion directed at the practice or exercise of their religious beliefs.


In making this decision the Court did not discuss whether the assistance to the religious schools for non-religious purposes would enhance their ability to further their religious instruction. Taxpayers, whose money was given to religious institutions, were not harmed provided their own religious practices were not affected.


Copyright © The Religious Freedom Page.