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Mueller v. Allen

    Brief Fact Summary. This case involves an appeal alleging that a Minnesota statute, which allows parents to deduct school related expenses pertaining to both private and public schools, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state statute that allows parents to deduct school related expenses, applicable to both private and public schools does not have the primary effect of advancing the sectarian aims of the non-public schools nor does it excessively entangle the government in religion.

    Facts. A Minnesota statute that provides a tax deduction for parents of school aged children for school related expenses is alleged to be unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution as it applies not just to public schools, but to private schools as well. The appeals court ruled that statute did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) affirmed. The Supreme Court stated that it rejects the argument that any government program that in some manner aids an institution with a religious affiliation violates the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court instead stated the rule in Lemon, whether the statute has the primary effect of advancing the sectarian aim of the non-public schools was the more appropriate test. The Supreme Court found the Minnesota statute in question did not have a primary effect of advancing sectarian aims, as the deduction is available for educatio
    nal expenses incurred by all parents, applying to those whose children that attend pubic schools and those who attend nonsectarian private schools and those who attend sectarian private schools. The Supreme Court also stated that there was not excessive government entanglement in religion under the third inquiry of the Lemon test.

    Issue. Whether a Minnesota income tax deduction available for expenses incurred in sending children to public as well as non-public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

    Held. Affirmed. The statute does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

    Dissent. Direct government subsidization of parochial school tuition is impermissible because the effect of the aid is unmistakably to provide desired financial support for nonpublic, sectarian institutions. Indirect assistance in the form of financial aid to parents for tuition payment is similarly impermissible. By ensuring that parents will be reimbursed for tuition payments they make, the Minnesota statute requires that taxpayers in general pay for the cost of parochial education and extends a financial incentive to parents to send their children to sectarian schools.

    Discussion. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the government from establishing laws that promote religion. If the law just generally promotes religion, not favoring one sect over another, the law will be valid under the Lemon test if it (i) has a secular purpose; (ii) the law has a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (iii) does not produce excessive government entanglement in religion.


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