Everson v. Board of Education

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In Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the Establishment Clause "erect[s] 'a wall of separation between church and State.'" Id. at 16. The Court also held that the Establishment Clause prohibits state laws that "aid one religion [or] aid all religions." Id. at 15.

Everson was not the first court case to reference Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. Reynolds v. United States also cited the letter, but it cited the whole letter instead of taking it out of context and using just eight words.

Background

Justice Hugo Black, who was later to write the opinion that banned public school prayer in Engel v. Vitale, wrote this opinion for the Court. In Everson, he allowed New Jersey to provide tax money for children to attend Catholic or private schools, a use of tax money that continues to this day. The statute read:[1]

Whenever in any district there are children living remote from any schoolhouse, the board of education of the district may make rules and contracts for the transportation of such children to and from school ... other than a public school, except such school as is operated for profit in whole or in part.
When any school district provides any transportation for public school children to and from school, transportation from any point in such established school route to any other point in such established school route shall be supplied to school children residing in such school district in going to and from school other than a public school, except such school as is operated for profit in whole or in part.

Though the conservative side won, Justice Black's liberal reasoning became the precedent for repeated future rulings against prayer and religion in public life, as in Engel v. Vitale.

References

  1. Laws of New Jersey (1941) c. 191.