From almost any perspective the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court on 28 June 1971, in Lemon v. Kurtzman and Earley v. DiCenso, must be viewed as landmark decisions in American church-state relations. In both cases the Court ruled against a state's "purchasing secular services" of parochial schools. As the New York Times astutely observed, "The decision on direct aid to parochial schools, which invalidated state laws in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, marked the first time that the Supreme Court had struck down a law on aid to church schools." The General Secretary of the U. S. Catholic Conference, Bishop Joseph L. Bernadin, declared, "The serious impact of this decision on nonpublic schools cannot be overestimated.""In its impact," Time opined, " Lemon is likely to be surpassed only by the Court's historic decisions on racial desegregation." These historic decisions on public aid to parochial schools came on the last scheduled day of the Court's term, and were the last decisions in which the late Justices Hugo L. Black and John M. Harlan participated.
At the same time as these two decisions, in a Connecticut college aid case, Tilton v. Richardson, the Court gave qualified approval to the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963, under which $240 million in federal funds had been provided for the construction of such college facilities as libraries, laboratories, and gymnasiums on campuses of public, private, and church colleges. The Court struck down, however, one feature of the law-that after twenty years the colleges could use the buildings for any purposes, including religious ones. Unlike Lemon v. Kurtzman and Farley v. DiCenso, Tilton v. Richardson was clearly a split decision, 5 to 4, with a majority decision but without a majority opinion.