463 U.S. 388 (1983), 82-195, Mueller v. Allen

Docket Nº:No. 82-195.
Citation:463 U.S. 388, 103 S.Ct. 3062, 77 L.Ed.2d 721
Party Name:Van D. MUELLER and June Noyes, Petitioners, v. Clyde E. ALLEN, Jr., et al.
Case Date:June 29, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 388

463 U.S. 388 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 3062, 77 L.Ed.2d 721

Van D. MUELLER and June Noyes, Petitioners,


Clyde E. ALLEN, Jr., et al.

No. 82-195.

United States Supreme Court.

June 29, 1983

Argued April 18, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 3063] Syllabus[*]


A Minnesota statute (§ 290.09(22)) allows state taxpayers, in computing their state income tax, to deduct expenses incurred in providing "tuition, textbooks and transportation" for their children attending an elementary or secondary school. Petitioner Minnesota taxpayers brought suit in Federal District Court against respondent Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue and respondent parents who had taken the tax deduction for expenses incurred in sending their children to parochial schools, claiming that § 290.09(22) violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by providing financial assistance to sectarian institutions. The District Court granted summary judgment for respondents, holding that the statute is neutral on its face and in its application and does not have a primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 290.09(22) does not violate the Establishment Clause, but satisfies all elements of the "three-part" test laid down in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 29 L.Ed.2d 745, that must be met for such a statute to be upheld under the Clause. Pp. 3065-3071.

[103 S.Ct. 3064] (a) The tax deduction in question has the secular purpose of ensuring that the State's citizenry is well educated, as well as of assuring the continued financial health of private schools, both sectarian and nonsectarian. Pp. 3066-3067.

(b) The deduction does not have the primary effect of advancing the sectarian aims of nonpublic schools. It is only one of many deductions--such as those for medical expenses and charitable contributions--available under the Minnesota tax laws; is available for educational expenses incurred by all parents, whether their children attend public schools or private sectarian or nonsectarian private schools, Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 93 S.Ct. 2955, 37 L.Ed.2d 948, distinguished; and provides aid to parochial schools only as a result of decisions of individual parents rather than directly from the State to the schools themselves. The Establishment Clause's historic purposes do not encompass the sort of attenuated financial benefit that eventually flows to parochial schools from the neutrally available tax benefit at issue. The fact that notwithstanding § 290.09(22)'s facial neutrality, a particular annual statistical analysis shows that the statute's application primarily benefits religious institutions,

Page 389

does not provide the certainty needed to determine the statute's constitutionality. Moreover, private schools, and parents paying for their children to attend these schools, make special contributions to the areas in which the schools operate. Pp. 3067-3071.

(c) Section 290.09(22) does not "excessively entangle" the State in religion. The fact that state officials must determine whether particular textbooks qualify for the tax deduction and must disallow deductions for textbooks used in teaching religious doctrines is an insufficient basis for finding such entanglement. P. 3067.

676 F.2d 1195 (CA8 1982), affirmed.


William I. Kampf argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief wereJames A. Lee, Jr., Charles S. Sims, and Burt Neuborne.

Douglas C. Blomgren, Special Assistant Attorney General of Minnesota, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief for respondent Allen wereHubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Catharine F. Haukedahl, Special Assistant Attorney General, and William P. Marshall. John R. Kenefick filed a brief for respondents Becker et al. Timothy P. Quinn and Andrew J. Eisenzimmer filed a brief for respondents Berthiaume et al.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Lee Boothby and Robert W. Nixon for Americans United for Separation of Church and State; by John W. Baker for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; and by Russell C. Brown for the Minnesota Association of School Administrators et al.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General McGrath, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kuhl, John H. Garvey, Robert E. Kopp, and Michael F. Hertz for the United States; byEdward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr., for the Council for American Private Education et al.; by Nathan Lewin, Daniel D. Chazin, and Dennis Rapps for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs; by David J. Young for Citizens for Educational Freedom; and by Wilfred R. Caron, Edward Bennett Williams, andJohn A. Liekweg for the United States Catholic Conference.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed by Charles E. Rice for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; by Henry C. Clausen for United Americans for Public Schools; by John J. Donnelly for Parents Rights, Inc.; by Gwendolyn H. Gregory, August W. Steinhilber, and Thomas A. Shannon for the National School Boards Association; by William H. Mellor III and Maxwell A. Miller for the Mountain Legal States Foundation et al.; and by Robert Chanin, Laurence Gold, Nathan Z. Dershowitz, and Marc D. Stern for the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty et al.

William I. Kampf, St. Paul, Minn., for petitioners.

Douglas C. Blomgren, St. Paul, Minn., for respondents.


Page 390

Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Minnesota allows taxpayers, in computing their state income tax, to deduct certain expenses incurred in providing for the education of their children. Minn.Stat. § 290.09(22). 1 The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that the Establishment Clause of the First and Fourteenth Amendments was not offended by this arrangement. Because this question was reserved in Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 93 S.Ct. 2955, 37 L.Ed.2d 948 (1973), and because

Page 391

of a conflict between the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and that of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Rhode Island Federation of Teachers v. Norberg, 630 F.2d 855 (CA1 1980) [103 S.Ct. 3065] , we granted certiorari. 459 U.S. 820, 103 S.Ct. 48, 74 L.Ed.2d 55 (1982). We now affirm.

Minnesota, like every other state, provides its citizens with free elementary and secondary schooling. Minn.Stat. §§ 120.06, 120.72. It seems to be agreed that about 820,000 students attended this school system in the most recent school year. During the same year, approximately 91,000 elementary and secondary students attended some 500 privately supported schools located in Minnesota, and about 95% of these students attended schools considering themselves to be sectarian.

Minnesota, by a law originally enacted in 1955 and revised in 1976 and again in 1978, permits state taxpayers to claim a deduction from gross income for certain expenses incurred in educating their children. The deduction is limited to actual expenses incurred for the "tuition, textbooks and transportation" of dependents attending elementary or secondary schools. A deduction may not exceed $500 per dependent in grades K through six and $700 per dependent in grades seven through twelve. Minn.Stat. § 290.09. 2

Page 392

Petitioners--certain Minnesota taxpayers--sued in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota claiming that § 290.09(22) violated the Establishment Clause by providing financial assistance to sectarian institutions. They named as respondents the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue of Minnesota and several parents who took advantage of the tax deduction for expenses incurred in sending their children to parochial schools. The District Court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment, holding that the statute was "neutral on its face and in its application and does not have a primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion." 514 F.Supp. 998, 1003 (D.Minn.1981). On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the Minnesota statute substantially benefited a "broad class of Minnesota citizens."

Today's case is no exception to our oft-repeated statement that the Establishment Clause presents especially difficult questions of interpretation and application. It is easy enough to quote the few words comprising that clause--"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of

Page 393

religion." It is not at all easy, however, to apply this Court's various decisions construing the Clause to governmental programs of financial assistance to sectarian schools and the parents of children attending those schools. Indeed, in many of [103 S.Ct. 3066] these decisions "we have expressly or implicitly acknowledged that 'we can only dimly perceive the lines of demarcation in this extraordinarily sensitive area of constitutional law.' " Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 609, 612, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 2109, 2111, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971), quoted with approval in Nyquist, supra, 413 U.S., at 761, 93 S.Ct., at 2959.

One fixed principle in this field is our consistent rejection of the argument that "any program which in some manner aids an institution with a religious affiliation" violates the Establishment Clause. Hunt v. McNair, 413 U.S. 734, 742, 93 S.Ct. 2868, 2874, 37 L.Ed.2d 923 (1973). See, e.g., Bradfield v. Roberts, 175 U.S. 291, 20 S.Ct. 121, 44 L.Ed. 168 (1899); Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, 90 S.Ct. 1409, 25 L.Ed.2d 697 (1970). For example, it is now well-established that a state may reimburse parents for expenses incurred in transporting their children to school, Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 504, 91 L.Ed. 711 (1947), and that it may loan secular textbooks to all schoolchildren within the state, Board of Education v....

To continue reading