ZORACH ET AL. v. CLAUSON ET AL., CONSTITUTING THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL.

United States Supreme Court

Argued January 31-February 1, 1952 Decided April 28, 1952.

Background: A program in New York City allowed, with parental consent, some students to leave the school during the school day and take part in religious instruction and devotional exercises. The program was neither funded by the school nor on school grounds. Officials from the churches would report on attendance of the released students to their facilities. Students who chose not to participate in these religious activities stayed in school for the remainder of the normal school day. Zorach brought a petition signed by other taxpayers to claim this release of students for religious activity unconstitutional, saying that it was involved in the establishment of religion within the meaning of the First Amendment.

Decision and Rationale: The Supreme Court decided that the release time was not unconstitutional, because it neither required any student to attend a religious activity nor used any public facility for religious instruction. It did not establish or impede the free exercise of any particular religion. The school did not fund or push for anything with a particular religion, simply allowed for students to be released during the day.

Impact on Teaching: This court case reminds educators of the extremely thin lines between constitutional and unconstitutional acts involving religion. This case was more towards an administrative/school-wide level, but the same types of things can occur in the classroom as well. Teachers and administrators must be cognizant that certain actions (regarding religion) may seem satisfactory to some yet be offending or distasteful to others. The school in this court case was not found unconstitutional, because the students were given a choice to attend and not forced or punished for not attending. Teachers and school leaders should walk away from this case understanding that it is important to remain mindful of the religious freedoms of each individual and try their best not to upset anyone’s religion/religious views.


Quiz Question: Is it considered unconstitutional for a school to allow optional “release times” for students to attend religious events held outside of school? Why or why not?