COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION v. NYQUIST

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
72-694
Petitioner 
Committee For Public Education
Respondent 
Ewald B. Nyquist, Commissioner of Education of New York
Consolidation 
No. 72-753, Anderson v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty
No. 72-791, Nyquist, Commissioner of Education of New York v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty
No. 72-929, Cherry v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty
Advocates
(argued the cause for appellants in No. 72-694 and for appellees in Nos. 72-753, 72-791, and 72-929)
(Assistant Solicitor General of New York, argued the cause for Nyquist et al., appellees in No. 72-694 and appellants in No. 72-791)
(argued the cause for appellants in No. 72-929 and for appellees Boylan et al. in No. 72-694)
(argued the cause for appellant in No. 72-753)
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Facts of the Case 

New York enacted Chapter 414 of its Education and Tax Laws, which created aid programs for nonpublic elementary and secondary schools. These amendments included Section 1, which provided a grant for the maintenance and repair of schools that served many low-income students; Section 2, which provided tuition reimbursement for low-income parents; and Sections 3, 4, and 5, which provided tax relief for parents who did not qualify for tuition reimbursement. After the institution of these amendments, the Campaign for Public Education and Religious Liberty challenged the amendments in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that these amendments violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The District Court held that Sections 1 and 2 violated the Establishment Clause, but not Sections 3, 4, and 5.

Question 

Did Sections 1-5 of Chapter 414 of New York's Education and Tax Laws violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Committee For Public Education, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

Yes to all sections. In a 6-3 decision, the Court affirmed the District Court on maintenance grant and tuition reimbursement and reversed the District Court on income tax relief. The Court cited earlier decisions that established that under the Establishment Clause, a law must "first, reflect a clearly secular legislative purpose, second, must have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and third, must avoid excessive government entanglement with religion." Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. acknowledged that New York's interest in creating a positive educational environment was a clearly secular purpose. Section 1, however, did not limit the use of the grants towards maintaining facilities used for secular purposes. This distinguished Section 1 from other aid programs approved by the Court in the past in Board of Education v. Allen and Tilton v. Richardson. Since "all or practically all" of the schools that qualified were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the maintenance grants would "subsidize and advance the religious mission of sectarian schools" in violation of the Establishment Clause. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice William H. Rehnquist concurred in this part of the judgment. The Court also struck down Section 2, as the tuition reimbursements did not "guarantee the separation between secular and religious educational functions." While the Court recognized the possibility that reimbursement money would not end up in the hands of religious schools, the grants would attempt to "enhance the opportunities of the poor to choose between public and nonpublic education," which would advance religion. Lastly, the Court reversed the District Court with regard to Sections 3, 4, and 5, ruling that effect of tax relief was similar to that of the tuition reimbursement and therefore unconstitutional. The Court in Walz v. Tax Commission upheld New York's property tax exemptions for religious organizations. However, the tax exemption was designed to prevent government oppression of religion through taxation, not for the promotion of religion.

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COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION v. NYQUIST. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 21 April 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1972/1972_72_694>.
COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION v. NYQUIST, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1972/1972_72_694 (last visited April 21, 2014).
"COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION v. NYQUIST," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 21, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1972/1972_72_694.