Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., 509 U.S. 1, 9 (1993)

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Cite as: 509 U. S. 1 (1993)

Opinion of the Court

with government programs offering general educational assistance.

In Mueller, we rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to a Minnesota law allowing taxpayers to deduct certain educational expenses in computing their state income tax, even though the vast majority of those deductions (perhaps over 90%) went to parents whose children attended sectarian schools. See 463 U. S., at 401; id., at 405 (Marshall, J., dissenting). Two factors, aside from States' traditionally broad taxing authority, informed our decision. See Witters, supra, at 491 (Powell, J., concurring) (discussing Mueller). We noted that the law "permits all parents—whether their children attend public school or private—to deduct their children's educational expenses." 463 U. S., at 398 (emphasis in original). See also Widmar, supra, at 274 ("The provision of benefits to so broad a spectrum of groups is an important index of secular effect"); Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U. S. 226, 248 (1990) (plurality opinion) (same). We also pointed out that under Minnesota's scheme, public funds become available to sectarian schools "only as a result of numerous private choices of individual parents of school-age children," thus distinguishing Mueller from our other cases involving "the direct transmission of assistance from the State to the schools themselves." 463 U. S., at 399.

Witters was premised on virtually identical reasoning. In that case, we upheld against an Establishment Clause challenge the State of Washington's extension of vocational assistance, as part of a general state program, to a blind person studying at a private Christian college to become a pastor, missionary, or youth director. Looking at the statute as a whole, we observed that "[a]ny aid provided under Washington's program that ultimately flows to religious institutions does so only as a result of the genuinely independent and private choices of aid recipients." 474 U. S., at 487. The program, we said, "creates no financial incentive for students


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