Zorach v. Clauson Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Petitioners, Zorach and other taxpayers and residents of New York City (Petitioners), brought suit challenging the constitutionality of a “released time” program, which allowed children to leave school, with parental permission, for religious instruction.

Facts of the case

“In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in McCollum v. Board of Education, New York City began a program in which students in public schools could be dismissed from classroom activities for certain periods to participate in religious instruction elsewhere. In McCollum, the Court disallowed an Illinois program in which representatives of religious groups came to public schools and taught classes during the school day. New York’s “”released time”” program was upheld by the New York Court of Appeals.”


The issue is simply whether New York, through its acceptance of the released time program, has engaged in the respect of an establishment of religion, within the meaning of the First Amendment of the Constitution.


The Supreme Court held for the Respondents, noting that because instruction occurred away from the schools and did not require school participation, no respect for a particular establishment had occurred.
Additionally, the Supreme Court held that a philosophy of hostility toward religion cannot be read into the Bill of Rights. Just because the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the making of a law which will respect the establishment of religion, it does not necessarily follow that the government should be hostile toward the exercise of religion, which would also be an abrogation of the Free Exercise Clause of the same amendment.


The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decision from the Court of Appeals of New York. The Court stressed that the program involved neither religious instruction in public school classrooms nor the expenditure of public funds. The Court held that the system did not prohibit the free exercise of religion because no one was forced to go to the religious classroom and no religious exercise or instruction was brought to the classrooms of the public schools. There was no evidence in the record that supported the conclusion that the system involved the use of coercion to get public school students into religious classrooms. In addition, the state had not made a law respecting an establishment of religion. The Court emphasized that the First Amendment did not require the government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence. Separation of church and state did not mean that public institutions could make no adjustments of their schedules to accommodate the religious needs of the people. The Court further ruled that plaintiff were precluded from raising the issue of maladministration before the Court because to that extent the decision below rested on an adequate state ground.

  • Case Brief: 1952
  • Petitioner: Zorach
  • Respondent: Clauson
  • Decided by: Vinson Court

Citation: 343 US 306 (1952)
Argued: Jan 31 – 1, 1952
Decided: Apr 28, 1952