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, subd. 22 (1982).
Minnesota, like every other State, provides its citizens with free elementary and secondary schooling. Minn. Stat. §§ 120.06, 120.72 (1982). 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Minnesota, by a law originally enacted in 1955 and revised in 1976 and again in 1978, permits state taxpayers to claim a deduction from gross income for certain expenses incurred in educating their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 6 and $700 per dependent in grades 7 through 12. Minn. Stat. § 290.09, subd. 22 (1982).
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 constituting that Clause — "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
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 (1973). See, e. g., Bradfield v. Roberts, 175 U.S. 291 (1899); Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U.S. 664 (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 (1947), and that it may loan secular textbooks to all schoolchildren within the State, Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236 (1968).
Notwithstanding the repeated approval given programs such as those in Allen and Everson, our decisions also have struck down arrangements resembling, in many respects, these forms of assistance. See, e. g., Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra; Levitt v. Committee for Public Education, 413 U.S. 472 (1973); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U.S. 349 (1975); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U.S. 229, 237-238 (1977).
The general nature of our inquiry in this area has been guided, since the decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, by the "three-part" test laid down in that case:
While this principle is well settled, our cases have also emphasized that it provides "no more than [a] helpful signpos[t]" in dealing with Establishment Clause challenges. Hunt v. McNair, supra, at 741. With this caveat in mind, we turn to the specific challenges raised against § 290.09, subd. 22, under the Lemon framework.
Little time need be spent on the question of whether the Minnesota tax deduction has a secular purpose. Under our prior decisions, governmental assistance programs have consistently survived this inquiry even when they have run afoul of other aspects of the Lemon framework. See, e. g., Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra; Meek v. Pittenger, supra, at 363; Wolman v. Walter, supra, at 236. This reflects, at least in part, our reluctance to attribute unconstitutional motives to the States, particularly when a plausible secular purpose
A State's decision to defray the cost of educational expenses incurred by parents — regardless of the type of schools their children attend — evidences a purpose that is both secular and understandable. An educated populace is essential to the political and economic health of any community, and a State's efforts to assist parents in meeting the rising cost of educational expenses plainly serves this secular purpose of ensuring that the State's citizenry is well educated. Similarly, Minnesota, like other States, could conclude that there is a strong public interest in assuring the continued financial health of private schools, both sectarian and nonsectarian. By educating a substantial number of students such schools relieve public schools of a correspondingly great burden — to the benefit of all taxpayers. In addition, private schools may serve as a benchmark for public schools, in a manner analogous to the "TVA yardstick" for private power companies. As JUSTICE POWELL has remarked:
All these justifications are readily available to support § 290.09, subd. 22, and each is sufficient to satisfy the secular purpose inquiry of Lemon.
We also agree with the Court of Appeals that, by channeling whatever assistance it may provide to parochial schools through individual parents, Minnesota has reduced the Establishment Clause objections to which its action is subject. It is true, of course, that financial assistance provided to parents ultimately has an economic effect comparable to that of aid given directly to the schools attended by their children. It is also true, however, that under Minnesota's arrangement public funds become available only as a result of numerous private choices of individual parents of school-age children. For these reasons, we recognized in Nyquist that the means by which state assistance flows to private schools is of some importance: we said that "the fact that aid is disbursed to parents rather than to . . . schools" is a material consideration in Establishment Clause analysis, albeit "only one among many factors to be considered." 413 U. S., at 781. It is noteworthy that all but one of our recent cases invalidating state aid to parochial schools have involved the direct transmission of assistance from the State to the schools themselves. The exception, of course, was Nyquist, which, as discussed previously, is distinguishable from this case on other grounds. Where, as here, aid to parochial schools is available only as a result of decisions of individual parents no "imprimatur of state approval," Widmar, supra, at 274, can be deemed to have been conferred on any particular religion, or on religion generally.
We find it useful, in the light of the foregoing characteristics of § 290.09, subd. 22, to compare the attenuated financial benefits flowing to parochial schools from the section to the evils against which the Establishment Clause was designed to protect. These dangers are well described by our statement that " `[w]hat is at stake as a matter of policy [in Establishment Clause cases] is preventing that kind and degree of government involvement in religious life that, as history
The Establishment Clause of course extends beyond prohibition of a state church or payment of state funds to one or more churches. We do not think, however, that its prohibition extends to the type of tax deduction established by Minnesota. The historic purposes of the Clause simply do not encompass the sort of attenuated financial benefit, ultimately controlled by the private choices of individual parents, that eventually flows to parochial schools from the neutrally available tax benefit at issue in this case.
Petitioners argue that, notwithstanding the facial neutrality of § 290.09, subd. 22, in application the statute primarily benefits religious institutions.
We need not consider these contentions in detail. We would be loath to adopt a rule grounding the constitutionality of a facially neutral law on annual reports reciting the extent to which various classes of private citizens claimed benefits under the law. Such an approach would scarcely provide the certainty that this field stands in need of, nor can we perceive principled standards by which such statistical evidence might be evaluated. Moreover, the fact that private persons fail in a particular year to claim the tax relief to which they are entitled — under a facially neutral statute — should be of little importance in determining the constitutionality of the statute permitting such relief.
Finally, private educational institutions, and parents paying for their children to attend these schools, make special contributions to the areas in which they operate. "Parochial
Thus, we hold that the Minnesota tax deduction for educational expenses satisfies the primary effect inquiry of our Establishment Clause cases.
JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, dissenting.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits a State from subsidizing religious education, whether it does so directly or indirectly. In my view, this principle of neutrality forbids not only the tax benefits struck down in Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756 (1973), but any tax benefit, including the tax deduction at issue here, which subsidizes tuition payments to sectarian schools. I also believe that the Establishment Clause prohibits the tax deductions that Minnesota authorizes for the cost of books and other instructional materials used for sectarian purposes.
The majority today does not question the continuing vitality of this Court's decision in Nyquist. That decision established that a State may not support religious education either through direct grants to parochial schools or through financial aid to parents of parochial school students. Id., at 780, 785-786. Nyquist also established that financial aid to parents of students attending parochial schools is no more permissible if it is provided in the form of a tax credit than if provided in the form of cash payments. Id., at 789-791; see ante, at 396-397, n. 6. Notwithstanding these accepted principles,
In calculating their net income for state income tax purposes, Minnesota residents are permitted to deduct the cost of their children's tuition, subject to a ceiling of $500 or $700 per child. By taking this deduction, a taxpayer reduces his tax bill by a sum equal to the amount of tuition multiplied by his rate of tax. Although this tax benefit is available to any parents whose children attend schools which charge tuition, the vast majority of the taxpayers who are eligible to receive the benefit are parents whose children attend religious schools. In the 1978-1979 school year, 90,000 students were enrolled in nonpublic schools charging tuition; over 95% of those students attended sectarian schools. Although the statute also allows a deduction for the tuition expenses of children attending public schools, Minnesota public schools are generally prohibited by law from charging tuition. Minn. Stat. § 120.06 (1982). Public schools may assess tuition charges only for students accepted from outside the district. § 123.39, subd. 5. In the 1978-1979 school year, only 79 public school students fell into this category. The parents of the remaining 815,000 students who attended public schools were ineligible to receive this tax benefit.
Like the law involved in Nyquist, the Minnesota law can be said to serve a secular purpose: promoting pluralism and diversity among the State's public and nonpublic schools. But the Establishment Clause requires more than that legislation have a secular purpose. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 773. "[T]he
As we recognized in Nyquist, direct government subsidization of parochial school tuition is impermissible because "the effect of the aid is unmistakably to provide desired financial support for nonpublic, sectarian institutions." 413 U. S., at 783. "[A]id to the educational function of [parochial] schools. . . necessarily results in aid to the sectarian school enterprise as a whole" because "[t]he very purpose of many of those schools is to provide an integrated secular and religious education." Meek v. Pittenger, supra, at 366. For this reason, aid to sectarian schools must be restricted to ensure that it may be not used to further the religious mission of those schools. See, e. g., Wolman v. Walter, supra, at 250-251. While "services such as police and fire protection, sewage disposal, highways, and sidewalks," may be provided to parochial schools in common with other institutions, because this type of assistance is clearly " `marked off from the religious function' " of those schools, Nyquist, supra, at 781-782, quoting Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 18 (1947), unrestricted financial assistance, such as grants for the maintenance and construction of parochial schools, may not be
Indirect assistance in the form of financial aid to parents for tuition payments is similarly impermissible because it is not "subject to . . . restrictions" which " `guarantee the separation between secular and religious educational functions and . . . ensure that State financial aid supports only the former.' " Id., at 783, quoting Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 613 (1971). By ensuring that parents will be reimbursed for tuition payments they make, the Minnesota statute requires that taxpayers in general pay for the cost of parochial education and extends a financial "incentive to parents to send their children to sectarian schools." Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 786. As was true of the law struck down in Nyquist:
That parents receive a reduction of their tax liability, rather than a direct reimbursement, is of no greater significance here than it was in Nyquist. "[F]or purposes of determining whether such aid has the effect of advancing religion,"
The majority attempts to distinguish Nyquist by pointing to two differences between the Minnesota tuition-assistance program and the program struck down in Nyquist. Neither of these distinctions can withstand scrutiny.
The majority first attempts to distinguish Nyquist on the ground that Minnesota makes all parents eligible to deduct up to $500 or $700 for each dependent, whereas the New York law allowed a deduction only for parents whose children attended nonpublic schools. Although Minnesota taxpayers who send their children to local public schools may not deduct tuition expenses because they incur none, they may deduct other expenses, such as the cost of gym clothes, pencils, and notebooks, which are shared by all parents of school-age children. This, in the majority's view, distinguishes the Minnesota scheme from the law at issue in Nyquist.
That the Minnesota statute makes some small benefit available to all parents cannot alter the fact that the most substantial benefit provided by the statute is available only to those parents who send their children to schools that charge tuition. It is simply undeniable that the single largest expense that may be deducted under the Minnesota statute is tuition. The statute is little more than a subsidy of tuition masquerading
Contrary to the majority's suggestion, ante, at 401, the bulk of the tax benefits afforded by the Minnesota scheme are enjoyed by parents of parochial school children not because parents of public school children fail to claim deductions to which they are entitled, but because the latter are simply unable to claim the largest tax deduction that Minnesota authorizes.
That this deduction has a primary effect of promoting religion can easily be determined without any resort to the type of "statistical evidence" that the majority fears would lead to constitutional uncertainty. Ibid. The only factual inquiry necessary is the same as that employed in Nyquist
The majority also asserts that the Minnesota statute is distinguishable from the statute struck down in Nyquist in another respect: the tax benefit available under Minnesota law is a "genuine tax deduction," whereas the New York law provided a benefit which, while nominally a deduction, also had features of a "tax credit." Ante, at 396, and n. 6. Under the Minnesota law, the amount of the tax benefit varies directly with the amount of the expenditure. Under the New York law, the amount of deduction was not dependent upon the amount actually paid for tuition but was a predetermined amount which depended on the tax bracket of each taxpayer. The deduction was designed to yield roughly the same amount of tax "forgiveness" for each taxpayer.
This is a distinction without a difference. Our prior decisions have rejected the relevance of the majority's formalistic distinction between tax deductions and the tax benefit at issue in Nyquist. See Byrne v. Public Funds for Public Schools, 442 U.S. 907 (1979), summarily aff'g 590 F.2d 514 (CA3); Grit v. Wolman, 413 U.S. 901 (1973), summarily aff'g Kosydar v. Wolman, 353 F.Supp. 744 (SD Ohio 1972).
The majority incorrectly asserts that Minnesota's tax deduction for tuition expenses "bears less resemblance to the arrangement struck down in Nyquist than it does to assistance programs upheld in our prior decisions and those discussed with approval in Nyquist." Ante, at 394. One might as well say that a tangerine bears less resemblance to an orange than to an apple. The two cases relied on by the majority, Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236 (1968), and Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), are inapposite today for precisely the same reasons that they were inapposite in Nyquist.
We distinguished these cases in Nyquist, supra, at 781-782, and again in Sloan v. Lemon, supra, at 832. Financial assistance for tuition payments has a consequence that
As previously noted, supra, at 409, the Minnesota tuition tax deduction is not available to all parents, but only to parents whose children attend schools that charge tuition, which are comprised almost entirely of sectarian schools. More importantly, the assistance that flows to parochial schools as a result of the tax benefit is not restricted, and cannot be restricted, to the secular functions of those schools.
In my view, Minnesota's tax deduction for the cost of textbooks and other instructional materials is also constitutionally infirm. The majority is simply mistaken in concluding that a tax deduction, unlike a tax credit or a direct grant to parents, promotes religious education in a manner that is only "attenuated." Ante, at 399, 400. A tax deduction has a primary effect that advances religion if it is provided to offset expenditures which are not restricted to the secular activities of parochial schools.
The instructional materials which are subsidized by the Minnesota tax deduction plainly may be used to inculcate religious values and belief. In Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S., at 366, we held that even the use of "wholly neutral, secular instructional material and equipment" by church-related schools contributes to religious instruction because " `[t]he secular education those schools provide goes hand in hand with the religious mission that is the only reason for the schools' existence.' " In Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S., at 249-250, we concluded that precisely the same impermissible effect results when the instructional materials are loaned to the pupil or his parent, rather than directly to the schools. We stated that "it would exalt form over substance if this distinction were found to justify a result different from that in Meek." Id., at 250. If follows that a tax deduction to offset the cost of purchasing instructional materials for use in sectarian schools, like a loan of such materials to parents, "necessarily results in aid to the sectarian school enterprise as a whole" and is therefore a "substantial advancement of religious activity" that "constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion." Meek v. Pittenger, supra, at 366.
There is no reason to treat Minnesota's tax deduction for textbooks any differently. Secular textbooks, like other secular instructional materials, contribute to the religious mission of the parochial schools that use those books. Although this Court upheld the loan of secular textbooks to religious
In any event, the Court's assumption in Allen that the textbooks at issue there might be used only for secular education was based on the fact that those very books had been chosen by the State for use in the public schools. 392 U. S., at 244-245. In contrast, the Minnesota statute does not limit the tax deduction to those books which the State has approved for use in public schools. Rather, it permits a deduction for books that are chosen by the parochial schools themselves. Indeed, under the Minnesota statutory scheme, textbooks chosen by parochial schools but not used by public schools are likely to be precisely the ones purchased by parents for their children's use. Like the law upheld in Board of Education v. Allen, supra, Minn. Stat. §§ 123.932 and 123.933 (1982) authorize the State Board of Education to provide textbooks used in public schools to nonpublic school students. Parents have little reason to purchase textbooks that can be borrowed under this provision.
There can be little doubt that the State of Minnesota intended to provide, and has provided, "[s]ubstantial aid to the educational function of [church-related] schools," and that the tax deduction for tuition and other educational expenses "necessarily results in aid to the sectarian school enterprise as a whole." Meek v. Pittenger, supra, at 366. It is beside the point that the State may have legitimate secular reasons for providing such aid. In focusing upon the contributions made by church-related schools, the majority has lost sight of the issue before us in this case.
In my view, the lines drawn in Nyquist were drawn on a reasoned basis with appropriate regard for the principles of neutrality embodied by the Establishment Clause. I do not believe that the same can be said of the lines drawn by the majority today. For the first time, the Court has upheld financial support for religious schools without any reason at all to assume that the support will be restricted to the secular functions of those schools and will not be used to support religious
"Tuition and transportation expense. The amount he has paid to others, not to exceed $500 for each dependent in grades K to 6 and $700 for each dependent in grades 7 to 12, for tuition, textbooks and transportation of each dependent in attending an elementary or secondary school situated in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, or Wisconsin, wherein a resident of this state may legally fulfill the state's compulsory attendance laws, which is not operated for profit, and which adheres to the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and chapter 363. As used in this subdivision, `textbooks' shall mean and include books and other instructional materials and equipment used in elementary and secondary schools in teaching only those subjects legally and commonly taught in public elementary and secondary schools in this state and shall not include instructional books and materials used in the teaching of religious tenets, doctrines or worship, the purpose of which is to inculcate such tenets, doctrines or worship, nor shall it include such books or materials for, or transportation to, extra-curricular activities including sporting events, musical or dramatic events, speech activities, driver's education, or programs of a similar nature."
"1. Tuition in the ordinary sense.
"2. Tuition to public school students who attend public schools outside their residence school districts.
"3. Certain summer school tuition.
"4. Tuition charged by a school for slow learner private tutoring services.
"5. Tuition for instruction provided by an elementary or secondary school to students who are physically unable to attend classes at such school.
"6. Tuition charged by a private tutor or by a school that is not an elementary or secondary school if the instruction is acceptable for credit in an elementary or secondary school.
"7. Montessori School tuition for grades K through 12.
"8. Tuition for driver education when it is part of the school curriculum." 514 F.Supp. 998, 1000 (1981).
The Court of Appeals concurred in this finding.
In addition, the District Court found that the statutory deduction for "textbooks" included not only "secular textbooks" but also:
"1. Cost of tennis shoes and sweatsuits for physical education.
"2. Camera rental fees paid to the school for photography classes.
"3. Ice skates rental fee paid to the school.
"4. Rental fee paid to the school for calculators for mathematics classes.
"5. Costs of home economics materials needed to meet minimum requirements.
"6. Costs of special metal or wood needed to meet minimum requirements of shop classes.
"7. Costs of supplies needed to meet minimum requirements of art classes.
"8. Rental fees paid to the school for musical instruments.
"9. Cost of pencils and special notebooks required for class." Ibid.
The Court of Appeals accepted this finding.
"The amount of the deduction is unrelated to the amount of money actually expended by any parent on tuition, but is calculated on the basis of a formula contained in the statute. The formula is apparently the product of a legislative attempt to assure that each family would receive a carefully estimated net benefit, and that the tax benefit would be comparable to, and compatible with, the tuition grant for lower income families." Id., at 790 (footnote omitted).
Indeed, the question whether a program having the elements of a "genuine tax deduction" would be constitutionally acceptable was expressly reserved in Nyquist, supra, at 790, n. 49. While the economic consequences of the program in Nyquist and that in this case may be difficult to distinguish, we have recognized on other occasions that "the form of the [State's assistance to parochial schools must be examined] for the light that it casts on the substance." Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S., at 614. The fact that the Minnesota plan embodies a "genuine tax deduction" is thus of some relevance, especially given the traditional rule of deference accorded legislative classifications in tax statutes.
"Allen and Everson differ from the present litigation in a second important respect. In both cases the class of beneficiaries included all schoolchildren, those in public as well as those in private schools. See also Tilton v. Richardson, [403 U.S. 672 (1971)], in which federal aid was made available to all institutions of higher learning, and Walz v. Tax Comm'n, supra, in which tax exemptions were accorded to all educational and charitable nonprofit institutions. . . . Because of the manner in which we have resolved the tuition grant issue, we need not decide whether the significantly religious character of the statute's beneficiaries might differentiate the present cases from a case involving some form of public assistance (e. g., scholarships) made available generally without regard to the sectarian-nonsectarian, or public-nonpublic nature of the institution benefited. . . . Thus, our decision today does not compel . . . the conclusion that the educational assistance provisions of the `G. I. Bill,' 38 U. S. C. § 1651, impermissibly advance religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." 413 U. S., at 782-783, n. 38. See also, id., at 775.
The Court's language in Lemon respecting political divisiveness was made in the context of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island statutes which provided for either direct payments of, or reimbursement of, a proportion of teachers' salaries in parochial schools. We think, in the light of the treatment of the point in later cases discussed above, the language must be regarded as confined to cases where direct financial subsidies are paid to parochial schools or to teachers in parochial schools.
In Grit v. Wolman, we summarily affirmed a decision invalidating a system of tax credits for nonpublic school parents in which the amount of the credit depended on the amount of tuition paid. This decision demonstrates that it is irrelevant whether the amount of a tax benefit is proportionate to the amount of tuition paid or is simply an arbitrary sum. The Court's affirmance of the result in each of these cases was a "decision on the merits, entitled to precedential weight." Meek v. Pittenger, supra, at 366-367, n. 16.
The deduction at issue in this case does differ from the tax benefits in Nyquist and our other prior cases in one respect: by its very nature the deduction embodies an inherent limit on the extent to which a State may subsidize religious education. Unlike a tax credit, which may wholly subsidize the cost of religious education if the size of the credit is sufficiently large, or a tax deduction of an arbitrary sum, a deduction of tuition payments from adjusted gross income can never "provide a basis for . . . complete subsidization of . . . religious schools." Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 782, n. 38 (emphasis in original). See also id., at 779, 787, n. 44. Nyquist made clear, however, that absolutely no subsidization is permissible unless it is restricted to the purely secular functions of those schools. See, e. g., id., at 777-779, 787-788.