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Opinion of the Court.

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like the one in the McCollum case, would be futile and ineffective. The New York Court of Appeals sustained the law against this claim of unconstitutionality. 303 N. Y. 161, 100 N. E. 2d 463. The case is here on appeal. 28 U.S. C. $ 1257 (2).

The briefs and arguments are replete with data bearing on the merits of this type of “released time" program. Views pro and con are expressed, based on practical experience with these programs and with their implications. We do not stop to summarize these materials nor to burden the opinion with an analysis of them. For they involve considerations not germane to the narrow constitutional issue presented. They largely concern the wisdom of the system, its efficiency from an educational point of view, and the political considerations which have motivated its adoption or rejection in some communities. Those matters are of no concern here, since our problem reduces itself to whether New York by this system has either prohibited the “free exercise” of religion or has made a law "respecting an establishment of religion” within the meaning of the First Amendment.

5 See, e. g., Beckes, Weekday Religious Education (National Conference of Christians and Jews, Human Relations Pamphlet No. 6); Butts, American Tradition in Religion and Education, pp. 188, 199; Moehlman, The Wall of Separation between Church and State, pp. 123, 155 ff.; Voehlman, The Church as Educator, pp. 103 ff.; Moral and Spiritual Values in the Public Schools (Educational Policies Commission, 1951); Newman, The Sectarian Invasion of Our Public Schools; Public School Time for Religious Education, 12 Jewish Education 130 (January, 1941); Religious Instruction On School Time, 7 Frontiers of Democracy 72 (1940); Released Time for Religious Education in New York City's Schools (Public Education Association, June 30, 1913); Released Time for Religious Education in New York City's Schools (Public Education Association, June 30, 1945); Released Time for Religious Education in New York City Schools (Public Education Association, 1949); 2 Stokes, Church and State in the United States, pp. 523–548; The Status Of Religious Education In The Public Schools (National Education Association).


Opinion of the Court.

It takes obtuse reasoning to inject any issue of the "free exercise” of religion into the present case. No one is forced to go to the religious classroom and no religious exercise or instruction is brought to the classrooms of the public schools. A student need not take religious instruction. He is left to his own desires as to the manner or time of his religious devotions, if any.

There is a suggestion that the system involves the use of coercion to get public school students into religious classrooms. There is no evidence in the record before us that supports that conclusion. The present record indeed tells us that the school authorities are neutral in this regard and do no more than release students whose parents so request. If in fact coercion were used, if it were established that any one or more teachers were using their office to persuade or force students to take the religious instruction, a wholly different case would be presented. Hence we put aside that claim of coercion


6 Nor is there any indication that the public schools enforce attendance at religious schools by punishing absentees from the released time programs for truancy.

Appellants contend that they should have been allowed to prove that the system is in fact administered in a coercive manner. The New York Court of Appeals declined to grant a trial on this issue, noting, inter alia, that appellants had not properly raised their claim in the manner required by state practice. 303 N. Y. 161, 174, 100 N. E. 2d 463, 469. This independent state ground for decision precludes appellants from raising the issue of maladministration in this proceeding. See Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Woodford, 234 U. S. 46, 51; Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Mims, 242 U. S. 532, 535; American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U. S. 156, 169.

The only allegation in the complaint that bears on the issue is that the operation of the program “has resulted and inevitably results in the exercise of pressure and coercion upon parents and children to secure attendance by the children for religious instruction.” But this charge does not even implicate the school authorities. The New York Court of Appeals was therefore generous in labeling it a “conclusory” allegation. 303 N. Y., at 174, 100 N. E. 2d, at 469. Since Opinion of the Court.

343 U.S.

both as respects the “free exercise” of religion and “an establishment of religion” within the meaning of the First Amendment.

Moreover, apart from that claim of coercion, we do not see how New York by this type of “released time" program has made a law respecting an establishment of religion within the meaning of the First Amendment. There is much talk of the separation of Church and State in the history of the Bill of Rights and in the decisions clustering around the First Amendment. See Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1; McCollum v. Board of Education, supra. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the First Amendment reflects the philosophy that Church and State should be separated. And so far as interference with the "free exercise” of religion and an "establishment” of religion are concerned, the separation must be complete and unequivocal. The First Amendment within the scope of its coverage permits no exception; the prohibition is absolute. The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other-hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Churches could not be required to pay even property taxes. Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the ap

the allegation did not implicate the school authorities in the use of coercion, there is no basis for holding that the New York Court of Appeals under the guise of local practice defeated a federal right in the manner condemned by Brown v. W'estern R. of Alabama, 338 U. S. 294, and related cases.


Opinion of the Court.

peals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God” in our courtroom oathsthese and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”

We would have to press the concept of separation of Church and State to these extremes to condemn the present law on constitutional grounds. The nullification of this law would have wide and profound effects. A Catholic student applies to his teacher for permission to leave the school during hours on a Holy Day of Obligation to attend a mass.

A Jewish student asks his teacher for permission to be excused for Yom Kippur. A Protestant wants the afternoon off for a family baptismal ceremony. In each case the teacher requires parental consent in writing. In each case the teacher, in order to make sure the student is not a truant, goes further and requires a report from the priest, the rabbi, or the minister. The teacher in other words cooperates in a religious program to the extent of making it possible for her students to participate in it. Whether she does it occasionally for a few students, regularly for one, or pursuant to a systematized program designed to further the religious needs of all the students does not alter the character of the act.

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state

Opinion of the Court.

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encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. (Government may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular in

stitutions to force one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it

necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence. The government must be neutral when it comes to competition between sects. It may not thrust any sect on any person. It may not make a religious observance compulsory. It may not coerce anyone to attend church, to observe a religious holiday, or to take religious instruction. But it can close its doors or suspend its operations as to those who want to repair to their religious sanctuary for worship or instruction.' No more than that is undertaken here.

This program may be unwise and improvident from an educational or a community viewpoint. That appeal is made to us on a theory, previously advanced, that each case must be decided on the basis of “our own prepossessions." See McCollum v. Board of Education, supra, p. 238. Our individual preferences, however, are not the constitutional standard. The constitutional standard is the separation of Church and State. The problem, like many problems in constitutional law, is one of degree. See McCollum v. Board of Education, supra, p. 231.

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