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Wolman v. Walter

433 U.S. 229 (1977)

Facts of the Case:

A suit was brought challenging the constitutionality of a series of benefits being offered from Ohio to non-public schools and their students. First, approved secular textbooks were supplied. Standardized testing and scoring were also offered. Speech and hearing diagnostic services were provided by board of education members and contracted physicians. Remedial services were offered for non-public school student needing special attention. These services were not given inside the private schools, but rather in public schools or in mobile classrooms. Instructional materials that were "incapable of diversion to religious use" were given to the schools. Finally, field trip transportation was given to students attending non-public schools.


The Court allowed Ohio to provide textbooks, standardized tests, therapeutic and diagnostic services to non-public school children. However, the state could not offer educational materials or subsidize class field trips.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Blackmun)

The textbook-purchase provision is constitutional as the Court has repeatedly decided. The supply of standardized tests and their scoring is also permissible because the state has an interest in ensuring that its youth receive a proper education. Diagnostic services are proper because, unlike teaching, there is no educational function and limited contact with the student. The neutrality of the therapeutic services is demonstrated by their being held outside the non-public school setting. The supplying of educational materials is unconstitutional because it has the “primary effect of providing a direct and substantial advancement of the sectarian enterprise.” The field trip provision is unconstitutional and differs from the busing permitted in Everson is several ways. The non-public school has greater control over the timing and frequency of the trips. The religious school teacher could impart a religious meaning to a field trip taken to a secular place. As a result, the funding of field trips must be treated as the giving of educational materials to private schools. Excessive entanglement would be required to ensure that they serve only a secular purpose.


In this decision, the Court continues to emphasize the role of the supervisor of the students. When diagnostic and therapeutic services are offered by members of the board of education there is no fear of religious training. However, when neutral educational materials are provided or field trips are taken to secular places, the religious teacher is able to impart religious meaning to otherwise neutral items.


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