Witters v. Svcs. for the Blind,
474 U.S. 481 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Witters v. Svcs. for the Blind, 474 U.S. 481 (1986)

Witters v. Washington Department of Services for the Blind

No. 84-1070

Argued November 6, 1985

Decided January 27, 1986

474 U.S. 481


Petitioner, suffering from a progressive eye condition, applied to the Washington Commission for the Blind for vocational rehabilitation assistance pursuant to a Washington statute. At the time, he was attending a private Christian college seeking to become a pastor, missionary, or youth director. The Commission denied aid on the ground that it was prohibited by the State Constitution, and this ruling was upheld on administrative appeal. Petitioner then brought an action in State Superior Court, which affirmed the administrative ruling on the same state law grounds. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed but based its ruling on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, holding that the provision of aid to petitioner would have the primary effect of advancing religion in violation of that Clause.

Held: On the record, extension of aid under the Washington vocational rehabilitation program to finance petitioner's training at the Christian college would not advance religion in a manner inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. Pp. 474 U. S. 485-490.

(a) As far as the record shows, assistance provided under the Washington program is paid directly to the student, who then transmits it to the educational institution of his or her choice. The program is in no way skewed towards religion, and creates no financial incentive for students who undertake sectarian education. Pp. 474 U. S. 487-488.

(b) Moreover, nothing in the record indicates that, if petitioner succeeds, any significant portion of the aid expended under the Washington program as a whole will end up flowing to religious education. P. 474 U. S. 488.

(c) On the facts, it is inappropriate to view any aid ultimately flowing to the Christian college as resulting from a state action sponsoring or subsidizing religion. Nor does the mere circumstance that petitioner has chosen to use neutrally available state aid to help pay for his religious education confer any message of state endorsement of religion. Pp. 474 U. S. 488-489.

102 Wash.2d 624, 689 P.2d 53, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which O'CONNOR, J.,

Page 474 U. S. 482

joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 474 U. S. 490. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 490. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 474 U. S. 493.

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