Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 13 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 639 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

mately 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. We further remarked that, as in Mueller, "[the] program is made available generally without regard to the sectarian-nonsectarian, or public-nonpublic nature of the institution benefited." 474 U. S., at 487 (internal quotation marks omitted). In light of these factors, we held that the program was not inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. Id., at 488-489.

Five Members of the Court, in separate opinions, emphasized the general rule from Mueller that the amount of government aid channeled to religious institutions by individual aid recipients was not relevant to the constitutional inquiry. 474 U. S., at 490-491 (Powell, J., joined by Burger, C. J., and Rehnquist, J., concurring) (citing Mueller, supra, at 398- 399); 474 U. S., at 493 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); id., at 490 (White, J., concurring). Our holding thus rested not on whether few or many recipients chose to expend government aid at a religious school but, rather, on whether recipients generally were empowered to direct the aid to schools or institutions of their own choosing.

Finally, in Zobrest, we applied Mueller and Witters to reject an Establishment Clause challenge to a federal program that permitted sign-language interpreters to assist deaf children enrolled in religious schools. Reviewing our earlier decisions, we stated 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." 509 U. S., at 8. Looking once again to the challenged program as a whole, we observed that the program "distributes benefits neutrally to any child qualifying as 'disabled.' " Id., at 10. Its "primary beneficiaries," we said, were "disabled children, not sectarian schools." Id., at 12.


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