COMMITTEE FOR PUB. EDUC. V. REGAN, 444 U. S. 646 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Committee for Pub. Educ. v. Regan, 444 U.S. 646 (1980)

Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Regan

No. 78-1369

Argued November 27, 1979

Decided February 20, 1980

444 U.S. 646


After a New York statute that appropriated public funds to reimburse both church-sponsored and secular nonpublic schools for performing various services mandated by the State, including the administration, grading, and reporting of the results of tests, both state-prepared and teacher-prepared tests, had been held to be violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in Levitt v. Committee for Public Education, 413 U. S. 472, the New York Legislature enacted a new statute directing payment to nonpublic schools of the costs incurred by them in complying with certain state-mandated requirements, including requirements as to testing (pupil evaluation, achievement, and scholarship and college qualification tests) and as to reporting and recordkeeping. The new statute, unlike the earlier version, also provides a means by which state funds are audited, thus ensuring that only the actual costs incurred in providing the covered secular services are reimbursed out of state funds. The District Court ultimately upheld the new statute.

Held: The New York statute does not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 444 U. S. 653-662.

(a) A legislative enactment does not contravene the Establishment Clause if it has a secular legislative purpose, if its principal or primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion, and if it does not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. P. 444 U. S. 653.

(b) The New York statute has the secular purpose of providing educational opportunity of a quality that will prepare New York citizens for the challenges of American life. The statutory plan calls for tests that are prepared by the State and administered on the premises by personnel of the nonpublic schools, which, however, have no control over the contents of the tests. Although some of the tests are graded by nonpublic school personnel, in view of the nature of the tests, which deal only with secular academic matters, the grading by nonpublic school employees affords no control to the school over the outcome of

Page 444 U. S. 647

any of the tests, and there is no substantial risk that the examinations can be used for religious educational purposes. While the recordkeeping and reporting services for which the State reimburses the nonpublic school pertain to furnishing information regarding the student body, faculty, support staff, physical facilities, curriculum, and student attendance, and thus are related to the educational program, nevertheless they are not part of the teaching process, and cannot be used to foster an ideological outlook. Thus, reimbursement for the costs of so complying with state law has primarily a secular, rather than a religious, purpose and effect. Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229, controlling. Pp. 444 U. S. 654-657.

(c) The New York statute is not invalid simply because it provides for direct cash reimbursement to the nonpublic school for administering the state-prescribed examinations and for grading some of them. Grading the secular tests furnished by the State is a function that has a secular purpose and primarily a secular effect, and this is not changed simply because the State pays the school for performing the grading function, rather than paying state employees or some independent service to perform the task. The same results obtain as to reimbursement for the recordkeeping and reporting functions, because they also have neither a religious purpose nor a primarily religious effect. Pp. 444 U. S. 657-659.

(d) The New York law provides ample safeguards against excessive or misdirected reimbursement. The services for which the private schools are reimbursed are discrete and clearly identifiable, and the statutory reimbursement process is straightforward and susceptible to the routinization that characterizes most reimbursement schemes. On its face, therefore, the New York plan suggests no excessive entanglement, and the bad faith upon which any future excessive entanglement would be predicated will not be read into the plan as an inevitability. Pp. 444 U. S. 659-661.

(e) The decision in Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349, is not to be interpreted as holding that any aid to even secular educational functions of a sectarian school is forbidden, or, more broadly still, that any aid to a sectarian school is suspect, since its religious teaching is so pervasively intermixed with each of its activities. The District Court in the instant case properly put the Meek case and the Wolman case, supra, together and sustained the reimbursements involved here because it had been shown with sufficient clarity that they would serve the State's legitimate secular ends without any appreciable risk of being used to transmit or teach religious views. Pp. 444 U. S. 661-662.

461 F.Supp. 1123, affirmed.

Page 444 U. S. 648

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 444 U. S. 662. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 444 U. S. 671.

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