Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 15 (2002)

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

Opinion of the Court

favors that might lead to a religious establishment." Mitchell, 530 U. S., at 810.

See also id., at 843 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment) ("[W]hen government aid supports a school's religious mission only because of independent decisions made by numerous individuals to guide their secular aid to that school, 'no reasonable observer is likely to draw from the facts . . . an inference that the State itself is endorsing a religious practice or belief' " (quoting Witters, 474 U. S., at 493 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment))). It is precisely for these reasons that we have never found a program of true private choice to offend the Establishment Clause.

We believe that the program challenged here is a program of true private choice, consistent with Mueller, Witters, and Zobrest, and thus constitutional. As was true in those cases, the Ohio program is neutral in all respects toward religion. It is part of a general and multifaceted undertaking by the State of Ohio to provide educational opportunities to the children of a failed school district. It confers educational assistance directly to a broad class of individuals defined without reference to religion, i. e., any parent of a school-age child who resides in the Cleveland City School District. The program permits the participation of all schools within the district, religious or nonreligious. Adjacent public schools also may participate and have a financial incentive to do so. Program benefits are available to participating families on neutral terms, with no reference to religion. The only preference stated anywhere in the program is a preference for low-income families, who receive greater assistance and are given priority for admission at participating schools.

There are no "financial incentive[s]" that "ske[w]" the program toward religious schools. Witters, supra, at 487-488. Such incentives "[are] not present . . . where the aid is allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria that neither favor nor disfavor religion, and is made available to both reli-


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