Not foster an excessive government “entanglement” with religion Since Lemon , the Court has had to draw a fine line between aid that is permissible and aid that is not. For instance, the Court has allowed religiously affiliated colleges and universities to use public funds to construct buildings, buy textbooks, computers and other instructional equipment, provide lunches and transportation to and from school, and administer standardized testing services. However, schools may not use public funds to pay teacher salaries or to provide transportation for students on field trips. The theory underlying these decisions is that it is possible to determine that buildings, textbooks, lunches, school buses, and standardized tests are not used to support sectarian education. However, determining how teachers handle a subject in class or focus a field trip may require complex and constitutionally impermissible regulation of religion. In an important loosening of its constraints on aid to parochial schools, the Supreme Court decided in 1997 in Agostini v. Felton that public school systems could send teachers into parochial schools to teach remedial and supplemental classes to needy children. In a landmark decision in 2002, the Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris upheld a program that provided some families in Cleveland, Ohio, with vouchers they could use to pay tuition at religious schools. Religious Activities in Public Schools In recent decades, the Supreme Court has also been opening public schools to religious activities. The Court decided that public universities that permit student groups to use their facilities must allow student religious groups on campus to use the facilities for religious worship. 6 In the 1984 Equal Access Act, Congress made it unlawful for any public high school receiving federal funds (almost all of them do) to keep student groups from using school facilities for religious worship if the school opens its facilities for other student meetings. 7 In 2001 the Supreme Court extended this principle to public elementary schools. 8 Similarly, in 1993, the Court required public schools that rent facilities to secular organizations to do the same for religious groups. 9 Beyond the use of school facilities there is the question of the use of public funds for religious activities in public school contexts. In 1995 the Court held that the University of Virginia was constitutionally required to subsidize a student religious magazine on the same basis as other student publications. 10 However, in 2004 the Court held that the state of Washington could exclude students pursuing a devotional theology degree from its general scholarship program. 11 The threshold of constitutional acceptability becomes higher when public funds are used more directly for education. Thus school authorities may not permit religious instructors to come into public school buildings during the school day to provide religious education, 12 although they may release students from part of the compulsory school day to receive religious instruction elsewhere.
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- Summer '16
- Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution