Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., 509 U.S. 1, 8 (1993)

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Opinion of the Court

litigate the case on the federal constitutional issues alone. "Both parties' motions for summary judgment raised only federal constitutional issues." Brief for Respondent 4, n. 4. Accordingly, the District Court's order granting respondent summary judgment addressed only the Establishment Clause question. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-35.

Given this posture of the case, we think the prudential rule of avoiding constitutional questions has no application. The fact that there may be buried in the record a nonconstitutional ground for decision is not by itself enough to invoke this rule. See, e. g., Board of Airport Comm'rs of Los Angeles v. Jews for Jesus, Inc., 482 U. S. 569, 572 (1987). "Where issues are neither raised before nor considered by the Court of Appeals, this Court will not ordinarily consider them." Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U. S. 144, 147, n. 2 (1970). We therefore turn to the merits of the constitutional claim.

We have never said that "religious institutions are disabled by the First Amendment from participating in publicly sponsored social welfare programs." Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S. 589, 609 (1988). For if the Establishment Clause did bar religious groups from receiving general government benefits, then "a church could not be protected by the police and fire departments, or have its public sidewalk kept in repair." Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 274-275 (1981) (internal quotation marks omitted). Given that a contrary rule would lead to such absurd results, we have consistently held that government programs that neutrally provide benefits to a broad class of citizens defined without reference to religion are not readily subject to an Establishment Clause challenge just because sectarian institutions may also receive an attenuated financial benefit. Nowhere have we stated this principle more clearly than in Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388 (1983), and Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for Blind, 474 U. S. 481 (1986), two cases dealing specifically

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