Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

536 U.S. 639 (2002)


Ohio enacted a Pilot Project Scholarship Program. The program provides tuition aid for students in kindergarten through third grade, expanding each year through eighth grade, to attend a participating public or private school of their parent's choosing. The program provides tutorial aid for students who choose to remain enrolled in public school. Any private school, whether religious or nonreligious, may participate in the program and accept program students so long as the school meets statewide educational standards. Participating private schools must agree not to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic background, or to 'advocate or foster unlawful behavior or teach hatred of any person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.' Public schools are eligible to receive a $2,250 tuition grant for each program student accepted in addition to the full amount of per-pupil state funding attributable to each additional student. In 2000 82% of the participating schools had a religious affiliation. None of the public schools have elected to participate. More than 3,700 students participated of which 96% enrolled in religiously affiliated schools. Sixty percent of these students were from families at or below the poverty line. For each student enrolled in a magnet school, the school district receives $7,746, including state funding of $4,167, the same amount received per student enrolled at a traditional public school. As of 1999, parents in Cleveland were able to choose from among 23 magnet schools, which together enrolled more than 13,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. These schools provide specialized teaching methods, such as Montessori, or a particularized curriculum focus, such as foreign language, computers, or the arts. Respondents filed this action seeking to enjoin the program on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction barring further implementation of the program. The District Court granted summary judgment for respondents. The Court of Appeals affirmed finding that the program had the 'primary effect' of advancing religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.