Curtis v. Sch. Comm.

420 Mass. 749, 652 N.E.2d 580 (1995)



Although all citizens have a right freely to exercise their religion, the free exercise clause cannot be understood to require the government to conduct its own internal affairs in ways that comport with the religious beliefs of particular citizens. The free exercise clause affords an individual protection from certain forms of compulsion. Incidental effects of government programs, which may make it more difficult to practice certain religions but which have no tendency to coerce individuals into acting contrary to their religious beliefs, do not require government to bring forward a compelling justification for its otherwise lawful actions. The free exercise clause is written in terms of what the government cannot do to the individual, not in terms of what the individual can exact from the government. 

Mere exposure to programs offered at school does not amount to unconstitutional interference with parental liberties without the existence of some compulsory aspect to the program.


The school district established a program of condom distribution at the junior and senior high school. No classroom participation was required and the students could request the condoms free with counseling or obtain them from vending machines for a fee. The students were free to participate in the program and no penalty or disciplinary action ensued if a student did not participate. The students and parents of students filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief based on a violation of their constitutional rights. The trial court granted summary judgment for the school officials.


Does the program of condom availability established by the school violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights?




The court affirmed and held that (1) the mere exposure to the condom program offered at school did not amount to unconstitutional interference with parental liberties without some compulsory aspect to the program; (2) neither an opt-out nor parental notification provision was required by the federal constitution; (3) although the program might offend the religious sensibilities of the students and parents of students, mere exposure to the program without compulsion did not amount to a violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

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