Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township


Significance: The Supreme Court upheld bus fare reimbursements for private school students in the first case to use the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the First Amendment's establishment of religion clause to the states.

Justice Hugo L. Black wrote the 5-4 opinion for the Supreme Court; Justices Robert H. Jackson, Felix Frankfurter, Wiley B. Rutledge, Jr., and Harold H. Burton dissented. On one level, all nine justices agreed that the establishment of religion clause applied to the states and that government should be neutral with respect to religion, neither aiding nor obstructing it. The disagreement was over whether the principle of neutrality toward religion was properly applied in this case. New Jersey law authorized school boards to reimburse parents for the cost of bus transportation to attend school, whether public or parochial. Arch Everson was a local taxpayer in Ewing township who believed this violated the establishment clause. The four dissenting justices agreed with him, but the majority on the Court believed bus fare payment was remote from any religious purpose. They believed that the money for bus transportation would have been paid to all parents regardless of the kind of school their children attended. Depriving Roman Catholic parents of the payments forced them to pay taxes to support the transportation of other children while not receiving the benefit themselves. The larger point of this case was to establish that neither the state nor the federal government could support a religious institution, and on that point, all agreed.