The U.S. Supreme Court concluded its 1992–93 term last month by taking action on several key religion cases that will provide new guidance in the sometimes rocky relationship between church and state.

In perhaps the most significant religion case of the term, a deeply divided Court opened the door a little wider between public money and private religious schools. In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, the Court ruled that a sign-language interpreter paid with tax dollars may assist a deaf student who attends a Catholic school. The 5-to-4 decision said that the interpreter was “a neutral service” of the government and was “in no way skewed towards religion.”

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said the interpreter did not violate the Establishment Clause, because she was present at the religious school “only as a result of the private decision of individual parents” and not because of any state action. Justice Harry Blackmun issued a sharp dissent: “Until now, the Court never has authorized a public employee to participate directly in religious indoctrination.”

William Bentley Ball, who argued the case, called the ruling “a wonderful statement … [about] the right of parents to choose religious education and not be excluded from public benefits in doing so.” He said the decision “points in the direction of saying … we don’t carry the separation of church and state to the absolutist extremes that it has been carried before.”

Strict church/state separationists, however, agreed with Blackmun. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, “For the first time in American history, tax dollars will be used to subsidize a student’s participation in worship ...

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