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Grand Rapids School District v. Ball

The End Of A Symbolic Union

Justice Brennan also believed that the Grand Rapids programs failed the third part of the Lemon test: "excessive government entanglement with religion." He wrote that even the "state-paid instructors" might be "influenced" by the religious atmosphere of the schools in which they worked, so that they might "subtly or overtly indoctrinate the students in particular religious tenets at public expense." Brennan said that for public schools to provide services in a religious school building was to create a "symbolic union of church and state."

Brennan had more concerns about where the process of private schools taking money from the public systems would stop. He worried that religious schools would stop teaching all their secular courses expecting the public schools to pick up their tabs. Then the public would truly be subsidizing religious education.

Of course, this arrangement was exactly what President Ronald Reagan, Secretary of Education William Bennett, and others in the Reagan administration had been calling for. They had proposed a system whereby public schools would be replaced with vouchers or tax credits, so that all who paid taxes would be allowed to direct their share into any type of education they chose. That way, rather than sending a child to a free public school, a parent might use his or her tax credit or voucher to pay all or part of the tuition at a private or religious school.

By ruling as they did in Grand Rapids School District v. Ball, the Supreme Court would seem to be calling such a system unconstitutional. The day after the decision, Bennett assailed the decision, calling it a "ridiculous" expression of the Court's "fastidious disdain for religion that is hard to fathom." "Crazy," "terrible," and "badly reasoned," were just some of the words Bennett used to criticize the Court's ruling.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Grand Rapids School District v. Ball - Significance, Separating Public And Religious Education, Taking The Lemon Test, The End Of A Symbolic Union