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. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor 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.
Acting pursuant to a New Jersey statute, a township board of education (board) authorized reimbursement to parents of money that they expended for the bus transportation of their children to and from parochial schools. A district taxpayer filed suit in a state court challenging the right of the board to reimburse parents of parochial school students. Taxpayer contended that the statute and the resolution passed are violative of the state and the federal constitutions.
Are the statute and resolution unconstitutional?
The court held that the First Amendment did not prohibit New Jersey from spending tax-raised funds to pay the bus fares of parochial school pupils as a part of a general program under which it paid the fares of pupils attending public schools. New Jersey could not hamper its citizens in the free exercise of their religion. Consequently, it could not exclude individuals because of their faith from receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation. The state legislation did no more than provide a general program to help parents get their children, regardless of their religion, safely and expeditiously to and from accredited schools.