This case was heard concurrently with two others, Earley v. DiCenso (1971) and Robinson v. DiCenso (1971). The cases involved controversies over laws in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In Pennsylvania, a statute provided financial support for teacher salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials for secular subjects to non-public schools. The Rhode Island statute provided direct supplemental salary payments to teachers in non-public elementary schools. Each statute made aid available to “church-related educational institutions.”
Did the Rhode Island and Pennsylvania statutes violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by making state financial aid available to “church- related educational institutions”?
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion
Yes. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger articulated a three-part test for laws dealing with religious establishment. To be constitutional, a statute must have “a secular legislative purpose,” it must have principal effects which neither advance nor inhibit religion, and it must not foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” The Court found that the subsidization of parochial schools furthered a process of religious inculcation, and that the “continuing state surveillance” necessary to enforce the specific provisions of the laws would inevitably entangle the state in religious affairs. The Court also noted the presence of an unhealthy “divisive political potential” concerning legislation which appropriates support to religious schools.