The U. S. Supreme Court laid down major new lines of church-state separation last month.
By voiding parochaid legislation in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the court barred the spending of public funds in sectarian schools, even if the money is used only for instruction in “secular” subjects. The court gave qualified approval, however, to a federal law that subsidizes building construction at religious colleges.
Roman Catholic elementary and secondary schools are expected to be hit hard by the decisions. They have been suffering from a financial pinch, and influential Catholic politicians have been actively working for state aid. Protestant grade schools in the United States, which are rapidly increasing in number, have thus far escaped severe financial pressures, and very few have campaigned for public money.
The Pennsylvania statute, passed in 1968, provided reimbursement to parochial schools for teacher salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials in subjects regarded as non-religious. Some $5 million has been spent annually. The Rhode Island program, limited to teacher salary supplements, began in 1969 with a $375,000 budget.
The Pennsylvania decision was technically unanimous. The only dissent in the Rhode Island case was Justice Byron R. White (who said he would have dissented in the Pennsylvania case as well had it not been for a quirk in the appeal).
The federal law in question was the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963, which so far has paid out $240 million for construction of academic buildings. A number of private, sectarian colleges had benefited. The law was challenged by a group in Connecticut. It was upheld by a 5–4 vote. Justices Warren E. Burger, John M. Harlan, Potter Stewart, Harry A. Blackmun, and ...1
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