Board of Education v. Allen
New York education law required local public school authorities to lend textbooks free of charge to all students in grades 7 through 12, including those in private schools. The statute required that the titles of the books be approved by local boards. In Allen, the school boards sought to declare this law unconstitutional, to bar the commissioner of education from removing officials from office for failure to comply with the law, and to prevent the use of state funds for the purchase of textbooks to be lent to parochial students.
The U. S. Supreme Court held that the statute did not violate either the Establishment or the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, relying primarily on the child benefit test. The Court stated that the primary effect of the statute would be the improvement of education for all children. The Court applied the child benefit test, which considers whether actions benefit all children rather than their schools, and found that the loans were acceptable.
Many parochial school personnel interpreted this statement to mean that the state would allow other kinds of support for private schools, such as funding for operations, buildings, and teacher salaries. One of the major results of this case was a flood of bills in state legislatures to provide support for private institutions (Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 1973; Sloan v. Lemon, 1973).
Allen preceded the now famous Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), in which the Court clarified the constitutionality of state acts pertaining to the establishment of religion through a three-part test. This test evaluated the constitutionality of a state statute under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment using the following three criteria: (1) The statute must have a secular legislative purpose, (2) its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and (3) it must not foster excessive government entanglement with religion. Lemon served as the precedent, but it continued to come under challenge.
According to Allen, the government could provide assistance to students in religious schools as long as it provided only for secular services. At the same time, the Court emphasized that “religious books” could not be loaned under the law as construed through the New York courts. Allen served as a precedent for challenges that continue to the present day.
Deborah E. Stine
See also Child Benefit Test; Lemon v. Kurtzman; State Aid and the Establishment Clause
- Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997).
- Board of Education of Central School District No. 1 v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236 (1968).
- Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).