In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided January 27, 1986

Justice O’Connor, Concurring


Witters v. Washington Department of Services for the Blind, 474 U.S. 481 (1986), is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court ruled that the Establishment Clause did not prevent the state of Washington from providing financial vocational assistance to a blind man who sought to study at a Christian college to become a pastor, missionary, or youth pastor. The Court ruled that the Establishment Clause does not prevent financial assistance from a state vocational rehabilitation program from being used for religious instruction.

Topic: First Amendment*Court vote: 9–0
Note: No other Justices joined this opinion.
Holding: The Establishment Clause is not violated by providing financial aid that it is then conveyed by an individual to a religious organization.
Citation: 474 U.S. 481 Docket: 84–1070Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database

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JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

I join Parts I and III of the Court's opinion, and concur in the judgment. I also agree with the Court that both the purpose and effect of Washington's program of aid to handicapped students are secular. As JUSTICE POWELL's separate opinion persuasively argues, the Court's opinion in Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388 (1983), makes clear that

state programs that are wholly neutral in offering educational assistance to a class defined without reference to religion do not violate the second part of the Lemon v. Kurtzman test, because any aid to religion results from the private decisions of beneficiaries.

Ante at 474 U. S. 490 -491 (POWELL, J., concurring) (footnote omitted). The aid to religion at issue here is the result of petitioner's private choice. No reasonable observer is likely to draw from the facts before us an inference that the State itself is endorsing a religious practice or belief. See Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 465 U. S. 690 (1984) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

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