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Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District

Historical Background, The Facts Of The Case, The Lower Courts Rule, The Supreme Court Rules


Larry Zobrest, et al.


Catalina Foothills School District

Petitioner's Claim

The government can pay to provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf student attending a parochial school without violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

William B. Ball

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

John C. Richardson

Justices for the Court

Anthony M. Kennedy, William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting

Harry A. Blackmun, Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

18 June 1993


Reversed lower court rulings and held that the provision of a sign language interpreter in a parochial school did not violate First Amendment prohibitions against the establishment of a state religion.


This narrow 5-4 decision was one in a long line of cases in which the Supreme Court struggled to strike the proper balance between permissible and impermissible state aid to parochial schools. The closeness of the decision indicated that the issue would continue to be debated in the future.

Disposition of the Case

James Zobrest had already completed high school by the time the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. However, the Catalina Foothills School District agreed to reimburse his parents for the cost of hiring their own sign language interpreter.


Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District was a loss for those who favor a strict interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Future decisions will reveal whether this case laid down a clear marker for states in determining what type of aid they can provide to religious schools.

Related Cases

  • Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993).
  • Reno v. Catholic School Services, Inc., 509 U.S. 43 (1993).
  • Darby v. Cisneros, 509 U.S. 137 (1993).
  • Shalala v. Schaeffer, 509 U.S. 292 (1993).


"Parochial School Aid."The New Republic, 10 July 1971.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994