State Constitutional Provisions
- Wash. Const. art. IX, § 4: "All schools
maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be
forever free from sectarian control."
- Wash. Const. art. I, § 11: "No public money or
property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship,
exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment…."
- Wash. Const. art. XXVI, § 4: "Fourth: Provision
shall be made for the establishment and maintenance of systems of public
schools free from sectarian control, which shall be open to all the
children of said state."
Federal Enabling Act
- Act of Feb. 22, 1889, 25 Stat. 676, ch. 180, § 4 (1889), requiring "the
establishment and maintenance of systems of public schools, which shall
be open to all the children of said States, and free from sectarian
IMPLEMENTING STATUTES AND REGULATIONS
- RCW § 71A.22.060: "A day training center
and a group training home under this chapter shall be a nonsectarian
training center and a nonsectarian group training home."
- RCW § 28A.150.305(1)(f):
"The board of directors of school districts may contract with
alternative educational service providers for eligible students.
Alternative educational service providers that the school district may
contract with include, but are not limited to…other
public or private organizations, excluding sectarian or religious
- RCW § 28C.04.410(3): "… Any education
institution receiving a jobs skills grant … shall be free of sectarian
control or influence as set forth in Article IX, section 4 of the state
- RCW § 28B.80.255(3)(c),
(4)(d): "The academic grant may not be used for any courses that
include any religious worship or exercise, or apply to any degree in
religious, seminarian, or theological academic studies."
- RCW § 28B.10.040: "All institutions of
higher education supported wholly or in part by state funds, and by
whatsoever name so designated, shall be forever free from religious or
sectarian control or influence."
- RCW § 28B.10.814: "No state aid shall be
awarded to any student pursuing a degree in theology." This statute
was recently ruled unconstitutional by Davey
v. Locke, 299 F.3d 748 (9th Cir. 2002).
- RCW § 28B.101.040: "The participant shall
not be eligible for a grant [from the Educational Opportunity Grant
Program] if it will be used for any programs that include religious
worship, exercise, or instruction or to pursue a degree in
- State ex rel. Gawley v. Grimm,
48 P.3d 274
(Wash. 2002) (Colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher
education are not "schools," within meaning of State
Constitution, overruling Weiss v. Bruno and State Higher
Education Assistance Authority v. Graham. The program which provided grants to
"placebound" two-year community
college students who could not travel to a State institution to finish
their junior and senior years of college did not violate the
Establishment Clauses of the federal and State Constitutions).
- Malyon v. Pierce County, 131 Wn.2d 779, 935 P.2d 1272 (Wash. 1997)
(Ultimate utilization of money or property is necessary but insufficient
part of test for violation of religious freedom provision of State
Constitution; religious purpose is key).
- Witters v. Comm'n for the
Blind, 112 Wn.2d 363, 771
P.2d 1119 (Wash. 1989) (Wash Art. 1, § 11, prohibiting applying public
monies to any religious instruction prohibited granting state financial
assistance to visually handicapped student to enable him to attend
private Bible college with goal of becoming pastor, missionary, or
church youth director).
- Washington Higher Educ.
Facilities Authority v. Gardner, 103 Wn.2d 838, 699 P.2d 1240 (Wash. 1985) (Authorization of
bonds under Washington Higher Education Facilities Authority Act to
benefit universities with ties to religious institutions did not violate
State Constitution provisions that no public money shall be applied to
support of any religious establishment, all schools shall be free from
sectarian control and that the credit of the state shall not be loaned
to any association or corporation).
- Washington Health Care Facilities Authority v.
Spellman, 633 P.2d 866
(Wash. 1981) (Act that provided tax-exempt capital financing for nonprofit
healthcare facilities, including religiously affiliated hospitals, was challenged
on the ground that it violated constitutional provisions concerning the
relationship between church and state. The court held that since no
authority expenses could be paid with state funds, the hospitals were
not even aided indirectly by public money. Repayments of the bonds did
not pass through the public treasury. Although the bonds were enabled by
a public body, the money was not acquired either for or from the general
- State Higher Educ. Assistance
Auth. v. Graham, 84 Wn.2d
813, 529 P.2d 1051 (Wash. 1974) (The use of public funds to purchase
loans made to students at sectarian schools as authorized under RCWA ch. 28B.17 [repealed], while indirect and
incidental, was an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the provisions
of Wash. Art. 9, §4, which forbids any use of public funds in support of
sectarian schools), overruled by Gallwey v.
Grimm, 146 Wn.2d 445, 48 P.3d 274 (2002).
- Weiss v. Bruno, 82 Wn.2d 199, 509 P.2d 973 (Wash. 1973) (Law
which provides public funds to supplement tuition payments of resident
students at nonpublic colleges and universities throughout the state,
and the administrative plan adopted to implement the statute, are violative of the provisions of Wash. Art. 9, § 4 requiring
that any schools maintained or supported by any public funds be free
from sectarian control or influence), overruled by Gallwey v. Grimm, 146 Wn.2d 445, 48 P.3d 274
- Calvary Bible Presbyterian Church v. Bd. of
Regents, 72 Wn.2d 912, 436
P.2d 139 (Wash. 1967) (Prohibition against expending public money for
religious instruction in Wash. Art. 1, § 11, is confined to that
category of instruction that resembles worship and manifests devotion to
religion and religious principles in thought, feeling, belief and
conduct, i.e., instruction that is devotional in nature and designed to
induce faith and belief in student).
- Perry v. Sch. Dist.
No. 81, 54 Wn.2d 886, 344
P.2d 1036 (Wash. 1959) (Use of public school facilities for promotion of
religious program is in violation of Wash 1, § 11 by the distribution of
cards in schools on which parents of public school children could
indicate their desire to have their children attend religious education
instruction held in locations off school grounds during released time
and by making of announcements regarding this program in classrooms or
on school premises by representatives of religious groups or school
- Visser v. Nooksack Valley Sch. Dist. No. 506, 33 Wn.2d 699, 207 P.2d 198 (Wash. 1949) (Since transportation of
pupils to and from school constituted support of religious schools, in
so far as RRS § 4719-1 (formerly RCWA 28.24.060) purported to compel
school district to furnish transportation to pupils of sectarian school,
it was violative of this provision).
- Mitchell v. Consol. Sch.
Dist. 201, 17 Wn.2d 61,
135 P.2d 79 (Wash. 1943) (Former statute providing that pupils attending
private schools should have same privileges as to transportation as were
provided for by school boards for pupils attending public schools was violative of provision of this section that no
public money shall be applied to any religious worship or instruction,
or support of any religious establishment).
- State v. Showalter, 159 Wash.
519, 293 P. 1000 (Wash.
1930) (Bible instruction in public schools is prohibited).
- State ex rel. Dearle v. Frazier, 102 Wash. 369, 173 P. 35 (Wash. 1918)
(Resolution of board of education providing for high school credits for
Bible study after successful passing of examination covering historical,
biographical, narrative, and literary features of Bible is invalid).
- Lichtman v. Shannon, 90 Wash.
186, 155 P. 783 (Wash.
1916) (Whether a system of education provided by the legislature was not
uniform and discriminated in favor of students attending another state
college was a matter committed solely to the discretion of the
- Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004) (Court upheld decision
based on Washington State Constitution to rescind state college
scholarship because student chose to study religion. "The amici contend that Washington's Constitution was born of
religious bigotry because it contains a so-called 'Blaine Amendment,'
which has been linked with anti-Catholicism. . . . [H]owever, the provision in question is not a Blaine Amendment.
. . . Accordingly, the Blaine Amendment's history is simply not before
- Garnett v. Renton Sch.
Dist. No. 403, 987 F.2d
641 (9th Cir. 1993) (Mandatory provisions of Equal Access Act [20
U.S.C.A. § 4071 et seq.], seeking to provide constitutional means for
public schools to allow religious as well as secular groups to use school
premises, so long as there was no school sponsorship of religious group
initiated by students, could not be applied in Washington state to
permit religious organizations to meet on school premises owing to Wash.
Art. 9, § 4 and Art. 1, § 11, requiring stricter separation of church
and state than Federal Constitution).
- Witters v. Dept. of Servs. for the Blind, 474 U.S.
481 (1986). (A Christian student suffering from a progressive visual
condition was eligible for state vocational rehabilitation assistance to
blind persons. However, the student was studying to become a pastor,
missionary, or youth director. He was denied on the ground that his
training constituted religious instruction for which the state
constitution prohibited the use of public funds. The Court held that the
extension of aid under the statute to finance the student's training at
a Christian college would not advance religion in a manner inconsistent
with the First Amendment's Establishment Clause).
State Attorney General Opinions
- 1998 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 8. (Appropriating state
funds for background checks for certain employees of private schools,
would not operate to support or facilitate sectarian instruction or other sectarian
activity, except in the most incidental, attenuated way. Thus, such a
bill as written would not be inconsistent with art. I, sec. 11 or art.
IX, sec. 4 of the State Constitution.)
- 1997 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 4. (It would not
violate Wash 1, § 11 to include religiously-affiliated schools and
colleges in the K-20 Educational Network, provided that there is
consideration in the form of monetary payment and services, and provided
that the Network in not operated in such a way as to violate the
- 1995 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 8. (It would violate
the state and federal constitutions to place students at state-funded
colleges and universities and student teachers in "pervasively
religious" elementary or secondary schools, as defined in case law;
whether a particular school is "pervasively religious" must be
analyzed on a case-by-case basis.)
- 1995 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 3. (1. The State
Constitution does not prohibit schools from adopting a "limited open
forum" policy for student organizations making use of school
districts' facilities so long as it is clear that the school district
maintains a neutral position on religious matters. 2. A school district may recognize
student groups engaged in religious activity and grant such groups
access to school time and space on the same basis offered to other
student organizations, so long as the district grants equal access to
all points of view and neither endorses nor
opposes the activities of any particular group).
- 1978 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 10. (School district
may lease surplus facilities to private schools, profit or nonprofit
organizations, or other governmental agencies, provided competitive
bidding is utilized, sufficient rent is paid, and provided that religious-
related activities of licensee are sufficiently remote from remaining
public school operations.)
- 1971 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 49. (Legislation
providing state funds, directly to needy students whether in the form of
loans or cash awards, to use for educational expenses at any institution
accredited by the Northwest College Association, whether state or
private, and including private sectarian institutions, would be constitutional.)
- 1963-64 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 130. (Power to permit students of private or
parochial school to attend district schools on part-time basis.)
- 1957-58 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 226. (Authority to use state funds for needy
students in colleges, including sectarian institutions.)
- 1945-46 Op. Atty. Gen. p.
365. (Authority of city and county to appropriate public funds to
sectarian school for purpose of improving playground of school, where
playground after such improvement is made available to public generally
as well as to members of parish to which school belongs.)
- 1937-38 Op. Atty. Gen. p.
391 (Transportation of children attending parochial schools).
- 1937-38 Op. Atty. Gen. p.
State Legislative History
- Journal of the Washington State
1889 (Beverly Paulik Rosenow
Books and Articles
- Katie Hosford, The Search for a Distinct Religious-Liberty
Jurisprudence Under the Washington
75 WASH. L. REV. 643 (2000).
- L.K. Beale, Charter
Schools, Common Schools, and
72 WASH. L. REV. 535 (1997).
- Kristine Kuenzli, Free
Speech Versus the Establishment Clause: Funding
of Religious Publication by State
GONZ. L. REV. 85 (1996/97).
- Robert F. Utter & Edward J. Larson, Church
and State on the Frontier: The History of the Establishment Clauses in
the Washington State Constitution, 15 HASTINGS
CONST. L.Q. 451 (1988).
- Frank J. Conklin & James M. Vache, The Establishment Clause and the Free
Exercise Clause of the Washington Constitution - A Proposal to the
Supreme Court, 8 U. PUGET SOUND L. REV. 411 (1985).
- Betty Parkany, "Religious
Instruction" in the Washington
- State aid to private sectarian education, 9 GONZ. L. REV. 791 - not available online (only volume 18
- 9 GONZ. L. REV. 272 - not available online
- Aid to private education, 16 GONZ. L. REV. 171 (1980).
- See the Heritage Foundation website
for a list of state contacts.