A History of Establishment Clause Jurisprudence With Respect to Parochial School Funding

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Since the drafting of the Establishment Clause, a pronouncement contained within the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court has debated how to interpret the meaning of, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court took its first action in an Establishment Clause case concerning funding for parochial school students that set a course that has been marked by confusion in the Court, inconsistent decision-making, and ultimately the creation of a policy of accommodation that provides opportunities for parochial school students to receive public financial assistance, including tuition reimbursement for their attendance at parochial schools.

This study tracks the history of Establishment Clause jurisprudence with a research emphasis from Everson v. Board of Education (1947) to Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) and illustrates how the philosophy of the United States Supreme Court has changed over time. Further context of the shift is provided with a discussion of the Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) decision that served as an effective court-interpreted barrier to the use of public resources and funds for parochial schools for several years. Subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have eroded gradually the barrier, coined the Wall of Separation between Church and State by Thomas Jefferson, culminating currently with Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002).

The purpose of the study is to analyze the aforementioned shift in the context of public funding flowing for private church schools.

It became clear through this study that the decision in Everson v. Board of Education was the decision which led to a history of conflict and confusion in the Court which set off a chain of events that ultimately led to public funding for parochial schools where allowable by State Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that public funding for a sectarian school is allowable so long as the funding is neutral and at the personal discretion of the parents receiving it as opposed to directly supporting a sectarian school.

Establishment Clause, Lemon Test, Separation of Church and State