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Ill. ex rel. McCollum v. Bd. of Educ. - 333 U.S. 203, 68 S. Ct. 461 (1948)


Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force or 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.


With the permission of a board of education, granted under its general supervisory powers over the use of public school buildings, religious teachers, employed subject to the approval and supervision of the superintendent of schools by a private religious group including representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, gave religious instruction in public school buildings once each week. Pupils whose parents so requested were excused from their secular classes during the periods of religious instruction and were required to attend the religious classes; but other pupils were not released from their public school duties, which were compulsory under state law. A resident and taxpayer of the school district whose child was enrolled in the public schools sued in a state court for a writ of mandamus requiring the board of education to terminate this practice. The petition was denied. The complainant appealed. The complainant alleged that the joint public-school/religious-group program violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.


Did the joint public-school/religious-group program violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution?




The United States Supreme Court held that this arrangement was in violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, as expressed in the First Amendment and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and accordingly that the state courts below had acted erroneously in refusing relief to the complainant, parent and taxpayer, against the continued use of school buildings for such religious instruction.

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