Mueller v. Allen: The Court’s Ruling

2012-10-30 22:24:51 by admin

Mueller v. Allen

Mueller v. Allen: Facts of the Case

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and upheld the Eighth Circuit, relying on the three-part Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) test. Regarding the first part of test, that of secular purpose, the Court observed that the tax deduction had the secular purpose of ensuring that the state’s citizenry was well educated as well as of assuring the continued financial health of private schools, both sectarian and nonsectarian. More broadly, the Court noted that “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”.

Concerning the second, or effects test, the Court decided that the deduction did not have the primary effect of advancing the sectarian aims of nonpublic schools, because it was only one of many deductions—such as those for medical expenses and charitable contributions—available under the Minnesota tax laws. In addition, the Court noted that the deduction was available “for educational expenses incurred by all parents, whether their children attend public schools or private sectarian or nonsectarian private schools”. The Court distinguished Mueller from its earlier decision in Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist (1973), which had invalidated a tax deduction only for students in nonpublic schools, by observing that no state imprimatur of religious schools could exist where “aid to parochial schools is available only as a result of decisions of individual parents,” in this case to enroll students in either public or nonpublic schools.

The Court explained that the state deduction statute was facially neutral in ignoring the plaintiffs’ claim that “96% of the children in private schools in 1978–1979 attended religiously-affiliated institutions,” in effect pointedly declaring that “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, the Court refused to find a violation of the third part of the Lemon test, excessive entanglement. The Court found that evaluating whether textbooks qualified for tax deductions was not significantly different from the loaning of secular textbooks to religious schools, a process that the Court had upheld 35 years earlier in Board of Education v. Allen (1968).

Mueller was a landmark judgment, because it was the first Supreme Court education case to invoke neutrality as a way to block the Lemon “effects” test. In effect, Mueller allowed state and federal government to frame statutes neutral in their design without having to be unduly concerned about the numerical impact of the statutes. Eventually, Mueller was to have a significant impact on the Supreme Court’s upholding the provision of special education services on site in religious schools (Zobrest, 1993), the provision of on-site Title I services at religious schools (Agostini, 1997), and the loaning of instructional materials and supplies (Mitchell, 2000) to religious schools.

In the broadest understanding of Mueller, though, the case stands for more than just facial neutrality; the Mueller Court acknowledged “the positive contributions of sectarian schools”. In so doing the Court rejected the “[risk] of deep political division along religious lines” that had formed part of the Supreme Court’s “political divisiveness” rationale in Lemon, used 12 years earlier to invalidate a variety of forms of governmental support for students and the religiously affiliated nonpublic schools that they attended.

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