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Everson v. Board of Education

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Title: Everson v. Board of Education  
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Language: English
Subject: Separation of church and state in the United States, First Amendment to the United States Constitution, List of court cases involving the American Civil Liberties Union, Abington School District v. Schempp, History of religion in the United States
Collection: 1947 in Education, 1947 in Religion, 1947 in United States Case Law, American Civil Liberties Union Litigation, Education in Mercer County, New Jersey, Establishment Clause Case Law, Ewing Township, New Jersey, Incorporation Case Law, Religion and Education, United States Education Case Law, United States Supreme Court Cases, United States Supreme Court Cases of the Vinson Court
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Everson v. Board of Education

Everson v. Board of Education
Argued November 20, 1946
Decided February 10, 1947
Full case name Arch R. Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing, et al.
Citations 330 U.S. 1 (more)
67 S. Ct. 504; 91 L. Ed. 711; 1947 U.S. LEXIS 2959; 168 A.L.R. 1392
Prior history Everson sued as a school district taxpayer, judgment for plaintiff, 132 N.J.L. 98, 39 A.2d 75; New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals reversed, 133 N. J.L. 350, 44 A.2d 333, cert. granted
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is incorporated against the states. However, the Supreme Court found that the New Jersey law was not in violation of the Establishment Clause.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Black, joined by Vinson, Reed, Douglas, Murphy
Dissent Jackson, joined by Frankfurter
Dissent Rutledge, joined by Frankfurter, Jackson, Burton
Laws applied
U.S. Const., Amends. I and XIV

Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)[1][2] was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court which applied the Establishment Clause in the country's Bill of Rights to State law. Prior to this decision the First Amendment words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"[3] imposed limits only on the federal government, while many states continued to grant certain religious denominations legislative or effective privileges.[4] This was the first Supreme Court case incorporating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as binding upon the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision in Everson marked a turning point in the interpretation and application of disestablishment law in the modern era.[5]

The case was brought by a New Jersey taxpayer against a tax funded school district that provided reimbursement to parents of both public and private schooled children taking the public transportation system to school. The taxpayer contended that reimbursement given for children attending private religious schools violated the constitutional prohibition against state support of religion, and the taking of taxpayers' money to do so violated the constitution's Due Process Clause. The Justices were split over the question whether the New Jersey policy constituted support of religion, with the majority concluding these reimbursements were "separate and so indisputably marked off from the religious function" that they did not violate the constitution.[6] However both affirming and dissenting Justices were decisive that the Constitution required a sharp separation between government and religion and their strongly worded opinions paved the way to a series of later court decisions that taken together brought about profound changes in legislation, public education, and other policies involving matters of religion.[4] Both Justice Hugo Black's majority opinion and Justice Wiley Rutledge's dissenting opinion defined the First Amendment religious clause in terms of a "wall of separation between church and state".[7][8]


  • Background 1
  • Opinions 2
  • Impact 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6
  • Works cited 7


After repealing a former ban, a New Jersey law authorized payment by local school boards of the costs of transportation to and from schools - including private schools. Of the private schools that benefited from this policy, 96% were parochial Catholic schools. Arch R. Everson, 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. After a loss in the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, then the state's highest court, Everson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on purely federal constitutional grounds. Arguments were heard on November 20, 1946.


The 5-4 decision was handed down on February 10, 1947. The Court, through Justice Hugo Black, ruled that the state bill was constitutionally permissible because the reimbursements were offered to all students regardless of religion and because the payments were made to parents and not any religious institution. Perhaps as important as the actual outcome, though, was the interpretation given by the entire Court to 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 form 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.

Justice Jackson wrote a dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justice Frankfurter. Justice Rutledge wrote another dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justices Frankfurter, Jackson and Burton. The four dissenters agreed with Justice 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.

In his written dissent, Justice Wiley 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.


In its first hundred years, the United States Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution's Bill of Rights as a limit on federal government and considered the states bound only by those rights granted to its citizens by their own state constitutions. Because the federal laws during this period were remote influences at most on the personal affairs of its citizens, minimal attention was paid by the Court to how those provisions in the federal Bill of Rights were to be interpreted.

Following the passage of the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution at the end of the Civil War, the Supreme Court would hear hundreds of cases involving conflicts over the constitutionality of laws passed by the states. The decisions in these cases were often criticized as resulting more from the biases of the individual Justices than the applicable rule of law or constitutional duty to protect individual rights. But, by the 1930s, the Court began consistently reasoning that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizens First Amendment protections from even state and local governments, a process known as incorporation.[9]

The 1940 decision in Cantwell v. Connecticut was the first Supreme Court decision to apply the First Amendment's religious protections to the states, that case focusing on the so-called Free Exercise Clause. The decision Everson followed in 1947, the first incorporating the Establishment Clause.[10] Numerous state cases followed disentangling the church from public schools, most notably the 1951 New Mexico case of Zellers v. Huff.[11][12][13]

Similar First Amendment cases have flooded the courts in the decades following Everson. Having invoked Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of the wall of separation in the Everson decision, the lawmakers and courts have struggled how to balance governments' dual duty to satisfy both the nonestablishment clause and the free exercise clause contained in the language of the amendment. The majority and dissenting Justices in Everson split over this very question, with Rutledge in the minority by insisting that the Constitution forbids "every form of public aid or support for religion".[14]

See also


  1. ^ Text of Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia 
  2. ^ Works related to Everson v. Board of Education at Wikisource
  3. ^ in the United States Bill of Rights
  4. ^ a b Schultz 1999, p. 78
  5. ^ Witte 2000
  6. ^ "Everson v. Board of Education: Conclusion", OYEZ U. S. Supreme Court Media", 1946
  7. ^ Schultz 1999, p. 28
  8. ^ See
    • "Everson v. Board of Education Opinion of the Court" by Hugo Black -full text;
    • "Everson v. Board of Education Dissenting Opinion" by Wiley Blount Rutledge - full text
  9. ^ McWhirter 1994, pp. 7–8
  10. ^ Larson, Edward John (2003). Trial and error: the American controversy over creation and evolution (3, revised ed.). Oxford University Press US.  
  11. ^ Pfeffer, Leo (1967) Church, state, and freedom Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, pages 545-549
  12. ^ MacDougall, Curtis Daniel (1952) Understanding public opinion: A guide for newspapermen and newspaper readers Macmillan, New York, page 532
  13. ^ Holscher, Kathleen A. (2008) Habits in the classroom: A court case regarding Catholic sisters in New Mexico Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Religion, Princeton University, page iii, Abstract and Introduction from Scribd
  14. ^ McWhirter 1994, p. 37

External links

  • Text of Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  LII 

Works cited

  • Dunne, Gerald T. (1977). Hugo Black and the judicial revolution. Simon & Schuster. 
  • Garry, Patrick M. (2004). The Myth of Separation: America’s Historical Experience with Church and State (Vol. 33, No. 2 ed.). Hofstra Law Review. 
  • Hamburger, Philip (2002). Separation of church and state. Harvard University Press.  
  • Harvard Law School Forum (1951). "Public aid to parochial education; a transcript of a discussion on a vital issue, presented by the Harvard Law School Forum. Speakers: George H. Williams [and others] Moderator: George C. Homans. Held at Rindge Tech School, Cambridge, Mass.". Cambridge Press. p. 56. 
  • McWhirter, Darien A. (1994). The Separation of Church and State. Oryx. 
  • Paulsen, Michael A. (1986). "Religion, Equality, and the Constitution: An Equal Protection Approach to Establishment Clause Adjudication". Notre Dame Law Review. pp. 311–317. 
  • Schultz, Jeffrey D. (1999). "Disestablishment"; "Hugo L. Black". In John G. West Jr.; Iain Maclean. Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx. p. 390. 
  • Witte, John Jr. (2000). Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential Rights and Liberties. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 164.  
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