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Everson v. Board of Education

Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) was the seminal United States Supreme Court case in American Establishment Clause law. In addition to incorporating the Establishment Clause (applying it to the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment), Everson was the beginning of a powerful separationist drive by the Court, during which many programs and practices given government sanction were found to have religious purposes or effects and thus invalidated.



A New Jersey law authorized payment by local school boards of the costs of transportation to and from private schools. As some of these schools were parochial Catholic institutions, a taxpayer in Ewing Township filed a lawsuit alleging that this indirect aid to religion through the mechanism of reimbursing parents and students for costs incurred as a result of attending religious schools violated both the New Jersey state constitution and the First Amendment of the federal Constitution. After a loss in the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, Everson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on purely federal constitutional grounds. Arguments were heard on November 20, 1946.

The Bench

The makeup of the supreme court and their opinions were:

Majority Opinion


1.Authored by: Justice Robert H. Jackson

2.Authored by: Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge


The 5-4 decision was handed down on February 10, 1947. The Court, through Justice Hugo Black, ruled that the state law was constitutionally permissible. Perhaps as important as the actual outcome, though, was the position that the entire Court adopted on the Establishment Clause. It reflected a broad interpretation of the Clause that was to guide the Court's decisions for decades to come. Black's language was sweeping

"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State.'" 330 U.S. 1, 15-16.

Despite the bold rhetoric, the outcome rejected the claim of improper government aid to religion. The four dissenters agreed with Black's definition of the Establishment Clause, but protested that the principles he laid down ought logically to lead to the invalidation of the challenged law. Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge argued that

"The funds used here were raised by taxation. The Court does not dispute nor could it that their use does in fact give aid and encouragement to religious instruction. It only concludes that this aid is not 'support' in law. But Madison and Jefferson were concerned with aid and support in fact not as a legal conclusion 'entangled in precedents.' Here parents pay money to send their children to parochial schools and funds raised by taxation are used to reimburse them. This not only helps the children to get to school and the parents to send them. It aids them in a substantial way to get the very thing which they are sent to the particular school to secure, namely, religious training and teaching." 330 U.S. 1, 45.

Despite the contentious result reached in Everson, it remains one of the most important cases relating to church-state separation in Supreme Court case law. Some, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist have criticized Everson for its reliance on quotations and views from Thomas Jefferson, who had little to do with the framing of the U.S. Constitution or its Bill of Rights. Everson 's supporters counter that the case also draws heavily on the works of James Madison, the "Father of the Bill of Rights," particularly on his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.

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Last updated: 05-20-2005 04:10:49