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Zorach v. Clauson

Citation. 343 U.S. 306, 72 S.Ct. 679, 96 L.Ed. 954 (1952).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs challenged a New York City program which permitted public school children to leave to attend religious instruction, arguing it violated the First Amendment.

Facts.

New York City created a program which permitted its public schools to release students during the school day to attend religious centers for religious instruction or devotional exercises. Those not released stayed in the classrooms. The churches made weekly reports to the schools. The released time program involved neither religious instruction in private schools nor expenditure of public funds. Plaintiffs challenged the released time program, arguing it violated the First Amendment.

Issue.

Whether New York City’s released time program violates the First Amendment.

Held.

No. New York City’s released time program does not violate the First Amendment.

Dissent.

Justice Black

The question is not whether a state has entered this forbidden field too far, but whether it has entered at all. New York is manipulating its compulsory education laws to help religious sects get pupils. This is not separation but combination of church and state.

Justice Jackson

The distinctions set forth by the court are trivial and attempt to magnify nonessential details. The wall which the Court professed to erect between church and state has become even more warped and twisted than I expected.

Discussion.

The First Amendment does not say that in every and all respect there shall be a separation of church and state. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concern or union or dependency on one another. This is common sense. Churches pay property taxes. Municipalities are permitted to render police and fire protection.

We hold similarly here because the nullification of this law would have wide and profound effects. A Catholic student could not leave to attend mass. A Jewish student’s absence on Yom Kippur would not be excused. To hold differently would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups, preferring those who do not believe over those who believe. Judgement affirmed.


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