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Tilton v. Richardson


The Court found that the constitutional rights of taxpayers were not violated simply by the government granting money to religious schools for secular facilities.

In 1971 a group of people from Connecticut protested in a court of law a statute called The Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963. The Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 allowed the government to give money to church-related universities for buildings as long as these buildings were only used for non-religious educational purposes. The group of people who protested the act believed that four Connecticut-based church-related universities that received grant monies from the federal government were using the buildings for religious purposes. The universities said they did not violate the statute. When the case arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices, in a landmark 5-4 decision, voted to uphold the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963. However, they made one change in the act. They changed the portion of the act that allowed a 20-year limit on the religious use of the buildings erected with the grant monies.

Chief Justice Burger voiced the majority opinion in Tilton v. Richardson. According to the Constitutional Law Dictionary, Burger said that the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 had a "legitimate secular objective entirely appropriate for government action without having the effect of advancing religion."

The reason the Court decided that the 20-year limit was unconstitutional, Burger said, was that "it cannot be assumed that a substantial structure has no value after that period and hence the unrestricted use of a valuable property is in effect a contribution of some value to a religious body."

The majority of justices in Tilton v. Richardson voiced the opinion that the act, when Congress passed it, was for providing opportunities for college educations. This, they said, had nothing to do with religion. The appellants, or people who protested the act in court, provided evidence they believed showed that the monies used did promote religious content. They believed that the act violated the Establishment or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Chief Justice Burger and Justices Stewart, Harlan, Blackmun and White agreed that the act did not violate the Establishment or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. These men arrived at their decision using a several criteria. First, the justices believed that Congress intended the act to include all colleges no matter what their affiliation. Secondly, the justices said legislative history backed up their opinions. Although other cases focused on the tension between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the justices noted, there existed no simple solution to such a problem.

The Justices who voted to uphold the Act cited this constitutional passage to bolster their argument: "the security and welfare of the United States require that this and future generations of American youth be assured ample opportunity for the fullest development of their intellectual capacities, and that this opportunity will be jeopardized unless the Nation's colleges and universities are encouraged and assisted in their efforts to accommodate rapidly growing numbers of youth who aspire to a higher education."

The justices also concurred that religious teaching is not the main purpose of church-related colleges as it is in parochial secondary and elementary schools. Further, Justices Burger, Stewart, Harlan, Blackmun and White cited the Bradfield v. Roberts case of 1899. This case, they argued, showed that all financial aid to church-sponsored activities did not violate the religion clauses to the Constitution. Their conclusion was this: there was no evidence that the religion was involved in the use of the allotted monies to the universities.

However, the act did violate the religion clauses, Justices Burger, Stewart, Harlan, Blackmun and White noted, in regard to the limitation for religious use of the buildings for 20 years. They said this restriction opens the buildings to use for other purposes at the end of the 20 years; therefore, it violates the religion clauses.

According to the Constitutional Law Dictionary, the opinion of the dissenters was "that even if the specific buildings funded under the grant were used only for secular (non-religious) purposes, religious institutions were aided by being able to use for religious purposes monies freed by the receipt of the federal grant." The dissenters believed that taxpayer's monies should not be used at a parochial school, be it elementary, secondary or collegiate. These justices said that the provision of monies, under the act, to these Connecticut colleges and universities, was indeed a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Tilton v. Richardson - Significance, Higher Education Act