333 U.S. 203 (1948), 90, Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of School District

Docket Nº:No. 90
Citation:333 U.S. 203, 68 S.Ct. 461, 92 L.Ed. 649
Party Name:Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of School District
Case Date:March 08, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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333 U.S. 203 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 461, 92 L.Ed. 649

Illinois ex rel. McCollum

v.

Board of Education of School District

No. 90

United States Supreme Court

March 8, 1948

No. 71, Champaign County, Illinois

Argued December 8, 1947

[68 S.Ct. 462] APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

Syllabus

With the permission of a board of education, granted under its general supervisory powers over the use of public school buildings, religious teachers, employed subject to the approval and supervision of the superintendent of schools by a private religious group including representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, gave religious instruction in public school buildings once each week. Pupils whose parents so requested were excused from their secular classes during the periods of religious instruction and were required to attend the religious classes; but other pupils were not released from their public school duties, which were compulsory under state law. A resident and taxpayer of the school district whose child was enrolled in the public schools sued in a state court for a writ of mandamus requiring the board of education to terminate this practice.

Held:

1. A judgment of the State Supreme Court sustaining denial of the writ of mandamus on the ground that the state statutes granted the board of education authority to establish such a program drew into question "the validity of a statute" of the State within the meaning of § 237 of the Judicial Code, and was appealable to this Court. P. 206.

2. As a resident and taxpayer of the school district and the parent of a child required by state law to attend the school, appellant had standing to maintain the suit. P. 206.

3. Both state courts having ruled expressly on appellant's claim that the state program violated the Federal Constitution, a motion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that appellant failed properly to present that question in the State Supreme Court cannot be sustained. P. 207.

4. This utilization of the State's tax supported public school system and its machinery for compulsory public school attendance to enable sectarian groups to give religious instruction to public school pupils in public school buildings violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 209-212.

396 Ill. 14, 71 N.E.2d 161, reversed.

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The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed a denial of a petition for a writ of mandamus requiring a board of education to terminate the giving of religious instruction by private teachers in the public schools. 396 Ill. 14, 71 N.E.2d 161. On appeal to this Court, reversed and remanded, p. 212.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case relates to the power of a state to utilize its tax supported public school system in aid of religious

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instruction insofar as that power may be restricted by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution.

The appellant, Vashti McCollum, began this action for mandamus against the Champaign Board of Education in the Circuit Court of Champaign County, Illinois. Her asserted interest was that of a resident and taxpayer of Champaign and of a parent whose child was then enrolled in the Champaign public schools. Illinois has a compulsory education law which, with exceptions, requires parents to send their children, aged seven to sixteen, to its tax-supported public schools, where the children are to remain in attendance during the hours when the schools are regularly in session. Parents who violate this law commit a misdemeanor punishable by fine unless the children attend private or parochial schools which meet educational standards fixed by the State. District boards of education are given general supervisory powers over the use of the public school buildings within the school districts. Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 122, §§ 123, 301 (1943).

Appellant's petition for mandamus alleged that religious teachers, employed by private religious groups, were permitted to come weekly into the school buildings during the regular hours set apart for secular teaching, and then and there, for a period of thirty minutes, substitute their religious teaching for the secular education provided under the compulsory education law. The petitioner charged that this joint public school religious group program violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The prayer of her petition was that the Board of Education be ordered to

adopt and enforce rules and regulations prohibiting all instruction in and teaching of religious education in all public schools in Champaign School District Number 71, . . . and in all public school houses and buildings in said district when occupied by public schools.

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The board first moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that, under Illinois law, appellant had no standing to maintain the action. This motion was denied. An answer was then filed, which admitted that regular weekly religious instruction was given during school hours to those pupils whose parents consented, and that those pupils were released temporarily from their regular secular classes for the limited purpose of attending the religious classes. The answer denied that this coordinated program of religious instruction violated the State or Federal Constitution. Much evidence was heard, findings of fact were made, after which the petition for mandamus was denied on the ground that the [68 S.Ct. 463] school's religious instruction program violated neither the federal nor state constitutional provisions invoked by the appellant. On appeal, the State Supreme Court affirmed. 396 Ill. 14 71 N.E.2d 161. Appellant appealed to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 344(a), and we noted probable jurisdiction on June 2, 1947.

The appellees press a motion to dismiss the appeal on several grounds, the first of which is that the judgment of the State Supreme Court does not draw in question the "validity of a statute of any State" as required by 28 U.S.C. § 344(a). This contention rests on the admitted fact that the challenged program of religious instruction was not expressly authorized by statute. But the State Supreme Court has sustained the validity of the program on the ground that the Illinois statutes granted the board authority to establish such a program. This holding is sufficient to show that the validity of an Illinois statute was drawn in question within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 344(a). Hamilton v. Regents of U. of Cal., 293 U.S. 245, 258. A second ground for the motion to dismiss is that the appellant lacks standing to maintain the action, a ground which is also without merit. Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 443, 445, 464.

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A third ground for the motion is that the appellant failed properly to present in the State Supreme Court her challenge that the state program violated the Federal Constitution. But in view of the express rulings of both state courts on this question, the argument cannot be successfully maintained. The motion to dismiss the appeal is denied.

Although there are disputes between the parties as to various inferences that may or may not properly be drawn from the evidence concerning the religious program, the following facts are shown by the record without dispute.1 In 1940, interested members of the Jewish, Roman Catholic, and a few of the Protestant faiths formed a voluntary association called the Champaign Council on Religious Education. They obtained permission from the Board of Education to offer classes in religious instruction to public school pupils in grades four to nine, inclusive. Classes were made up of pupils whose parents signed printed cards requesting that their children be permitted to attend;2 they were held weekly, thirty minutes for

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the lower grades, forty-five minutes for the higher. The council employed [68 S.Ct. 464] the religious teachers at no expense to the school authorities, but the instructors were subject to the approval and supervision of the superintendent of schools.3 The classes were taught in three

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separate religious groups by Protestant teachers,4 Catholic priests, and a Jewish rabbi, although, for the past several years, there have apparently been no classes instructed in the Jewish religion. Classes were conducted in the regular classrooms of the school building. Students who did not choose to take the religious instruction were not released from public school duties; they were required to leave their classrooms and go to some other place in the school building for pursuit of their secular studies. On the other hand, students who were released from secular study for the religious instructions were required to be present at the religious classes. Reports of their presence or absence were to be made to their secular teachers.5

The foregoing facts, without reference to others that appear in the record, show the use of tax supported property for religious instruction and the close cooperation between the school authorities and the religious council in promoting religious education. The operation of the State's compulsory education system thus assists and is integrated with the program of religious instruction carried on by separate religious sects. Pupils compelled by law to go to school for secular education are released

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in part from their legal duty upon the condition that they attend the religious classes. This is beyond all question a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith. And it falls squarely under the ban of the First Amendment (made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth) as we...

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