WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled today it is unconstitutional for states to earmark funds for secular educational purposes in parochial schools, but upheld the use of federal funds for construction grants to church-supported colleges.
In a flurry of major actions, the Court also:
-Put off formal adjournment, set for today, to allow more time to make a ruling in the controversy over publication of the Pentagon's secret Vietnam war papers. The justices noted without comment they were recessing rather than ending the term. A ruling could come at any time however.
-Reversed the draft defiance conviction of former heavyweight champion Muhammad All, unanimously upholding his claim of conscientious objector status on the basis of his Black Muslim beliefs.
-Announced it would rule next term on whether the death penalty violates the constitutional prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment." It accepted four cases from four states for arguments and an eventual written decision next fall or winter.
-Threw out the death sentence sentence given Richard Speck who was convicted for the 1966 mass murder of eight nurses in Chicago. The justices let the murder conviction stand but said Illinois courts should reconsider the death penalty in light of previous Supreme Court rulings on the exclusion of jurors who voice scruples against capital punishment.
-Ordered another round of arguments next term on the question of whether the Constitution allows criminal convictions by less-than-unanimous jury verdicts.
The precedent-setting rulings on the religious school issue could bring about closing of several hundred Catholic schools. The actions came in cases from Rhode island, Pennsylvaia and Connecticut. State programs were struck down in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.
The federal grant system was upheldin a Connecticut challenge.
The precedent-setting decision came in cases from Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Rhode Island had a plan to supplement parochial teachers' salaries.
Pennsylvania was using part of the admission tax on horse racing and harness racing to reimburse private elementary and secondary schools for the cost of textbooks and instructional materials for teachers' salaries.
Later part of the cigarette tax was added.
The court said boith statutes were unconstitutional under the religion clauses of the First Amendment because their cumulative effect involve progressive entanglement between government and religion.
In a separate opinions court ruled that federal construction grants to church-related colleges did not violate the separation of church and state required by the Constitution.
The court did strike down the portion of the federal law providing for a 20-year limitation on religious use of the facilties constructed with federal money.
Billions of dollars in college construction funds to institutions with close links to religious dominations were at stake in the test case, started by 15 Connecticut taxpayers.
The 5-4 decision was the first constitutional test in the Supreme Court of the 1963 Higher Education Facilities Act. It returned the case to a special three-judge federal panel in New Haven, which upheld the law March 19, 1970.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger delivered the opinions in the religion cases. The state cases were combined. In the federal case he could win only three other justices to his reasoning winding up in a 5 to 4 minority.
Dissenters were Justices William O. Douglas. Hugo L. Black. Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan Jr.
The American Jewish Congress, which represented the Connecticut taxpayers, did not claim that all church-related institutions of higher learning "no matter how tenuous the relationship" was excluded from the benefits of the law.
But the challengers said the four Connecticut colleges in the test case were ineligible because because of close ties to the Roman Catholic Church.
They were Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, which received $367,100 for a library; Annhurst College in Woodstock, $444,182 for a fine arts building; Fairfield University in Fairfield, $1 million for "a library and science building; and Albertus Magnus College, New Haven, $21,000 for a language laboratory.
In a dissenting opinion. Justice William O. Douglas said the construction grants should be barred along with other aid. Justices Hugo L. Black and Thurgood Marshall endorsed Douglas' dissent.
"The students aimed at are those of the particular faith now financed by taxpayers' money." Douglas said. "Parochial schools are not beamed at agnostics, atheists, or those of a competing sect. The more sophisticated institutions may admit minorities; but the dominant religious character is not changed.
"... The majority's distinction is in effect that small violations of the first amendment over a period of years are unconstitutional while a huge violation occurring only once is (not).
"I cannot agree with such sophistry."
But Burger said in his majority opinion: "There are generally significant differences between the religious aspects of church-related institutions of higher learning and parochial elementary and secondary schools."
The pre-coUege policy is "to assure future adherents to a particular faith by having control of their total education at an early age," he said.