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Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District

The Supreme Court Rules

On 18 June 1993, the Supreme Court issued its decision. Along narrow 5-4 lines, it reversed the rulings of the lower courts, holding that the First Amendment's establishment clause did not bar the Catalina Foothills School District from providing Zobrest with an interpreter. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the five justice majority, with Justice Blackmun penning a dissent that was joined, in whole or in part, by three other justices.

The provision of a sign language interpreter, observed Chief Justice Rehnquist, was not an act of establishment of religion but "part of a general government program that distributes benefits neutrally to any child qualifying as handicapped." If an individual who is handicapped, in this case Larry Zobrest, chooses to attend a parochial school, Rehnquist went on to write, "we hold that the Establishment Clause does not prevent the school district from furnishing him with a sign-language interpreter there in order to facilitate his education."

The majority's opinion hinged in part on its contention that the sign language interpreter would in no way advance the school's religious agenda. "Nothing in this record suggests that a sign language interpreter would do more than accurately interpret whatever material is presented to the class as a whole," Rehnquist wrote.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District - Historical Background, The Facts Of The Case, The Lower Courts Rule, The Supreme Court Rules