A state cannot exclude individuals from receiving generally available public benefits for the sole reason that they are members of a certain religious faith.
The appellee, a township board of education, acting pursuant to a New Jersey statute that authorizes its local school districts to make rules and contracts for the transportation of children to and from school, authorized reimbursement to parents of money expended by them for the bus transportation of their children on regular busses operated by the public transportation system. Some of this money was for the payment of transportation of children in the community to Catholic parochial schools, which gives their students religious instruction in addition to secular education. The appellant, a district taxpayer, filed suit challenging the right of the Board to reimburse parents of parochial school students because it violates both the State and Federal Constitutions. That court ruled in favor of the appellant and the case was appealed.
Can taxpayer money be used to fund transportation of children to Catholic parochial schools?
The New Jersey legislature has decided that a public purpose will be served by using tax-raised funds to pay the bus fares of all school children, including those who attend parochial schools. It has been ruled that sometimes, tax-raised money can’t be used for private purposes. But the Court has also pointed out that this is far-reaching authority must be exercised with the most extreme caution. 253 U.S. 233, 240. Otherwise, a state's power to legislate for the public welfare might be seriously curtailed, a power which is a primary reason for the existence of states. The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church, or aid any religion or prefer one religion over another. The First Amendment does not prohibit New Jersey from using tax-raised funds to transport children to parochial schools because it cannot exclude individuals because of their faith, or lack of it.