School District of the City of Grand Rapids v. Ball

PETITIONER: School District of the City of Grand Rapids, et al.
RESPONDENT: Phyllis Ball, et al.
LOCATION: Grand Rapids, Michigan

DOCKET NO.: 83-990
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 473 US 373 (1985)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 01, 1985
GRANTED: Feb 27, 1984

A. E. Dick Howard - on behalf of Respondents
Kenneth F. Ripple - on behalf of Petitioners
Michael W. McConnell - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae supporting Petitioners

Facts of the case

In the 1976-1977 school year, the school district of Grand Rapids, Michigan, adopted two programs, Shared Time and Community Education, that provided secular classes to private school students at public expense. The Shared Time program offered classes during the school day that were intended to “supplement the core curriculum” of the private schools. The Shared Time teachers were full-time public school teachers, and many had previously worked in private schools. The Community Education program was offered for children and adults at many different sites, but the classes at issue took place after the school day in private elementary schools. The Community Education teachers were part-time public school employees, and many also held jobs at private schools. The classrooms for both programs were leased from the private schools. The vast majority of the participating private schools were religious, and there was no evidence that a public school student ever attended a Shared Time or Community Education class held in a private school.

Six taxpayers filed suit against the school district and state officials and alleged that they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by using public funds to pay for private (and religious) education. The district court applied the Lemon test and determined that, although the aim was secular, the effect of the programs conferred benefits to religious institutions and entangled the affairs of church and state. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.


Do the Shared Time and Community Education programs of the school district have the primary effect of advancing religion and therefore violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for School District of the City of Grand Rapids v. Ball

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1984 in School District of the City of Grand Rapids v. Ball

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in School District of Grand Rapids v. Ball.

Mr. Ripple, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Kenneth F. Ripple:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States of Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The principal question is whether a public school system, here the Grand Rapids Public School System, may offer in leased classrooms within religiously oriented non-public schools, enrichment and remedial courses for the children who regularly attend those schools.

Now, unlike many of the religion clause cases which have come to this Court over the last decade, this case is here on a full trial record.

And one of the difficulties, quite frankly, judges have had is analyzing that record.

We have, first of all, prepared for you a second volume of the appendix which is an index to that record, and before I get into a full-blown treatment of the facts, I would also like to mention three particular points which I think would help you in analyzing the facts of this record.

First of all, I think it is very important to recall that there are two very distinct programs involved in this case.

The first is a shared time program.

This involves public school teachers teaching enrichment and remedial classes in these leased classrooms during the regular school day.

The second program is a community education program.

That community education program involves leisure time activities, after school, led by part-time Grand Rapids public school employees.

Warren E. Burger:

Are these programs available to all the public schools on the same basis?

Kenneth F. Ripple:

They are available to the children in the public schools as well, Mr. Chief Justice.

The shared time program is available as part of the curriculum of the schools.

The leisure time activities is available not only to the children in the public school, but also to many other people in Grand Rapids.

For instance, in the local General Motors plant, there is a General Motors community education program where they hire part... GM employees to teach programs of leisure time activities.

The second point which I think is important to recall is that not all of the programs which were subject to trial in this case are here on appeal or were before the Court of Appeals.

The only programs which are before the Court today are the following:

First of all, the shared time program at the elementary school level in remedial mathematics and enrichment mathematics, remedial reading and enrichment reading, art, music, and physical education; secondly, a single secondary remedial program called Math Topics, designed to help children who can't understand basic mathematical concepts; and lastly, the community education program at the elementary school level.

Lastly, I think it would be... it is important to help you analyze this record if I very succinctly state our position in the case.

We submit that the criteria developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman, when sensitively applied, are in fact adequate to resolve the constitutional issue before this Court.

We further submit that a sensitive application of the Lemon criteria requires that the Court ground its holding in the actual record which reflects the actual operation of the program.

We submit that before a Court frustrates the attempt of a local community to give help to 11,000 school children, it ought to find in fact the specific and actual consequence of that program which violates the establishment clause.

We further--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Ripple, do you take the position that the standing requirements are satisfied in this case?

Kenneth F. Ripple:

--We do maintain that the standing requirement is not satisfied.

First of all, we believe that Flast v. Cohen and Valley Forge have not been met by the Plaintiffs in this case, and we also submit that if this Court were inclined to view this as municipal taxpayers standing, that it is time to review the dicta in the Mellon case.

Indeed, it is... municipal taxpayers standing does, in fact, allow a heckler's veto in this case, because the fact of the matter is, this program doesn't hurt any taxpayer in that town, and there was no problem until the suit was brought.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Was there a challenge to the state statutes providing money, or was it a challenge to the Grand Rapids administrative program?