Supreme Court decision
By: Melville Weston Fuller
Date: May 18, 1908
Source: Find Law for Legal Professionals U.S. Supreme Court. Reuben Quick Bear v. Leupp, 210 U.S. 50 (1908). Available online at http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case... ; website home page: http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/ (accessed May 16, 2003).
About the Author: Melville Weston Fuller (1833–1910) was born in Augusta, Maine. After receiving his law degree from Harvard, he practiced law in Chicago, where he was active in Democratic Party politics. In 1888 President Grover Cleveland (served 1885–1889 and 1893–1897) appointed him Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served until his death.
In Reuben Quick Bear v. Leupp (1908), more than four dozen members of the Sioux tribe sued U.S. government officials who, as trustees for the tribe, were using money from a treaty trust fund to pay the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions to provide schools for the tribe. The plaintiffs included Reuben Quick Bear and other members of the Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Agency in South Dakota. The defendants were Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis E. Leupp, Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Treasury Secretary George Bruce Cortelyou, and others.
The plaintiffs asked that a permanent injunction be issued against the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior "to restrain them from paying or authorizing the payment of, either by themselves or by any of their subordinate officers or agents whatever, any moneys of either the Sioux treaty fund or the interest of the Sioux trust fund, or any other fund appropriated, either by permanent appropriation or otherwise, for the uses of the Sioux tribe, to the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions of Washington or to any other sectarian organization whatever, for the support, education, or maintenance of any Indian pupils of the said Sioux tribe, at the St. Francis Mission Boarding School or any other sectarian school on the said Rosebud reservation or elsewhere." Put simply, the plaintiffs were asking that trust fund money not be used to fund education in religious schools.
In his decision, Chief Justice Fuller held that "the Catholic missions schools in question were erected many years ago at the cost of charitable Catholics, and with the approval of the authorities of the government of the United States, whose policy it was then [to] encourage the education and civilization of the Indians through the work of religious organizations." On this basis the Court ruled that funds set aside in trust for the Sioux tribe, with the federal government acting as trustee, could be legally used to pay tuition costs at a religious school. The Court considered this constitutionally valid even though the money would go to a church-sponsored school.
Opponents believed that by using the tribe's money to help pay tuition costs at a Catholic school, the government would be indirectly supporting the establishment of a church in violation of the First Amendment, which says that Congress shall "make no law respecting the establishment of religion." In previous decisions the Supreme Court had interpreted the amendment as prohibiting any kind of government aid or endorsement of religious institutions.
In this case, however, the Court concluded that the First Amendment did not apply because the money actually belonged to the tribe; it came from a treaty fund agreement between the tribe and the U.S. government, and since the government was holding the money in trust, it was not the government's money. Once the money was granted by treaty to the Sioux tribe and was no longer the property of the federal government, it could be used to pay tuition at religious-based schools.
Primary Source: Reuben Quick Bear v. Leupp [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: In these excerpts, the Supreme Court ruled that money held by the federal government as trustee could be used to pay American Indians' tuition at private religious schools. The separation of church and state did not apply in this case because the money belonged to the tribe, not the federal government. The money was being used by the tribe in its own behalf for education. It did not matter that the school had a religious affiliation. The case was argued February 26–27, 1908, and was decided May 18, 1908.
The appellants filed their bill in equity in the supreme court of the district of Columbia, alleging that:
- The plaintiffs are citizens of the United States, and members of the Sioux tribe of Indians of the Rosebud agency, in the state of South Dakota, and bring this suit in their own right as well as for all other members of the Sioux tribe of Indians of the Rosebud agency.
- The defendants are citizens of the United States and residents of the District of Columbia, and are sued in this action as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Treasurer of the United States, and the Comptroller of the Treasury, respectively.
- That by article 7 of the Sioux treaty of April 29, 1868 …, continued in force for twenty years after July 1, 1889, by 17 of the act of March 2, 1889 … the United States agreed that for every thirty children of the said Sioux tribe who can be induced or compelled to attend school, a house shall be provided, and a teacher competent to teach the elementary branches of an English education shall be furnished, who will reside among said Indians, and faithfully discharge his or her duties as a teacher.
- That, for the purpose of carrying out the above provision of the said treaty during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1906, the following appropriation was made by the act of March 3, 1905 …
For support and maintenance of day and industrial schools, including erection and repairs of school buildings in accordance with article seven of the treaty of April twenty-nine, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, which article is continued in force for twenty years by section seventeen of the act of March second, eighteen hundred and eighty-nine, two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. The fund so appropriated is generally known as the Sioux treaty fund.
- That 17 of the said act of March 2, 1889, further provides as follows:
And in addition thereto there shall be set apart out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sum of three million of dollars, which said sum shall be deposited in the Treasury of the United States to the credit of the Sioux Nation of Indians as a permanent fund, the interest of which at five per centum per annum, shall be appropriated, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, to the use of the Indians receiving rations and annuities upon the reservations created by this act, in proportion to the numbers that shall so receive rations and annuities at the time that this act takes effect, as follows: One half of said interest shall be so expended for the promotion of industrial and other suitable education among said Indians, and the other half thereof in such manner and for such purposes, including reasonable cash payments per capita as, in the judgment of said Secretary, shall, from time to time, most contribute to the advancement of said Indians in civilization and self-support. This fund of $3,000,000 is generally known as the Sioux trust fund.
- That the interest on the said Sioux trust fund is paid annually by the United States in accordance with the provisions of the second clause of the act of April 1, 1880 … reading as follows:
And the United States shall pay interest semiannually, from the date of deposit of any and all such sums in the United States Treasury, at the rate per annum stipulated by treaties or prescribed by law, and such payments shall be made in the usual manner, as each may become due, without further appropriation by Congress.
- That the act of June 7, 1897 …, contains the following provision:
And it is hereby declared to be the settled policy of the government to hereafter make no appropriation whatever for education in any sectarian school.…
Wherefore the plaintiffs ask relief, as follows:
- That a permanent injunction issue against the said Francis E. Leupp, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to restrain him from executing any contract with the said Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions of Washington, District of Columbia, or any other sectarian organization whatever, for the support, education, or maintenance of any Indian pupils of the said Sioux tribe at the said St. Francis Mission Boarding School, or any other sectarian school on the said Rosebud reservation or elsewhere, and that a permanent injunction issue against the said Francis E. Leupp, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and the said … Secretary of the Interior, to restrain them from paying or authorizing the payment of, either by themselves or by any of their subordinate officers or agents whatever, any moneys of either the said Sioux treaty fund or the interest of the said Sioux trust fund, or any other fund appropriated, either by permanent appropriation or otherwise, for the uses of the said Sioux tribe, to the said Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions of Washington, District of Columbia, or to any other sectarian organization whatever, for the support, education, or maintenance of any Indian pupils of the said Sioux tribe, at the said St. Francis Mission Boarding School or any other sectarian school on the said Rosebud reservation or elsewhere.
- And for a permanent injunction against the drawing, countersigning, and paying "any warrants in favor of the said Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions of Washington, District of Columbia, or any other sectarian organization whatever, for the support, education, and maintenance of any Indian pupils of the said Sioux tribe at the said St. Francis Mission Boarding School, or any other sectarian school on the said Rosebud reservation or elsewhere, payable out of any money appropriated, either by permanent appropriation or otherwise, for the uses of the said Sioux tribe."
And for general relief. The defendants answered:
- Admitting "that the plaintiffs are citizens of the United States, and members of the Sioux tribe of Indians, but aver that the said Indians are only nominal plaintiffs, the real plaintiff being the Indian Rights Association, who have had this suit brought for the purpose of testing the validity of the contract hereinafter referred to."
- Admitting "that they are residents of the District of Columbia, and are sued in this action as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Treasurer of the United States, and the Comptroller of the Treasury, respectively. These defendants, as officers of the government of the United States, have no interest in the controversy raised by the bill, except to perform their duties under the law, and they, therefore, as such officers, respectfully submit the validity of the contract hereinafter referred to, and the payments thereunder, to the judgment of this honorable court. The real defendant in interest is the "Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions,"—a corporation duly incorporated by chapter 363 of the acts of assembly of Maryland for the year 1894, for the object, inter alia, of educating the American Indian directly, and also indirectly, by training their teachers and others, especially to train their youth to become self-sustaining men and women, using such methods of instruction in the principles of religion and of human knowledge as may be best adapted to these purposes.
As the object of the bill filed is to test the validity of a contract made between the Commissioner for Indian Affairs and the said "Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions," and the validity of the payment of the money thereunder, this answer will set forth the facts and the statutes of the United States under which it is contended that such contract and the payment of money thereunder are valid.…
Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:
We concur in the decree of the court of appeals of the District, and the reasoning by which its conclusion is supported, as set forth in the opinion of Wright, J., speaking for the court.…
The validity of the contract for $27,000 is attacked on the ground that all contracts for sectarian education among the Indians are forbidden by certain provisos contained in the Indian appropriation acts of 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898. But if those provisos relate only to the appropriations made by the government out of the public moneys of the United States, raised by taxation from persons of all creeds and faiths, or none at all, and appropriated gratuitously for the purpose of education among the Indians, and not to "tribal funds," which belong to the Indians themselves, then the contract must be sustained. The difference between one class of appropriations and the other has long been recognized in the annual appropriation acts. The gratuitous appropriation of public moneys for the purpose of Indian education has always been made under the heading, "Support of Schools;" whilst the appropriation of the "treaty fund" has always been under the heading, "Fulfilling Treaty Stipulations and Support of Indian Tribes;" and that from the "trust fund" is not in the Indian appropriation acts at all. One class of appropriations relates to public moneys belonging to the government; the other to moneys which belong to the Indians and which is administered for them by the government. From the history of appropriations of public moneys for education of Indians, set forth in the brief of counsel for appellees, and again at length in the answer, it appears that before 1895 the government, for a number of years, had made contracts for sectarian schools for the education of the Indians, and the money due on these contracts was paid, in the discretion of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, from the "tribal funds" and from the gratuitous public appropriations. But in 1894 opposition developed against appropriating public moneys for sectarian education. Accordingly, in the Indian appropriation act of 1894, under the heading of "Support of Schools," the Secretary of the Interior was directed to investigate the propriety of discontinuing contract schools, and to make such recommendations as he might deem proper. The Secretary suggested a gradual reduction in the public appropriations on account of the money which had been invested in these schools, with the approbation of the government. He said: "It would be scarcely just to abolish them entirely,—to abandon instantly a policy so long recognized,"—and suggested that they should be decreased at the rate of not less than 20 per cent a year. Thus, in a few years they would cease to exist; and during this time the bureau would be gradually prepared to do without them, while they might gather strength to continue without government aid.…
Some reference is made to the Constitution, in respect to this contract with the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. It is not contended that it is unconstitutional, and it could not be… But it is contended that the spirit of the Constitution requires that the declaration of policy that the government "shall make no appropriation whatever for education in any sectarian schools" should be treated as applicable, on the ground that the actions of the United States were to always be undenominational, and that, therefore, the government can never act in a sectarian capacity, either in the use of its own funds or in that of the funds of others, in respect of which it is a trustee; hence, that even the Sioux trust fund cannot be applied for education in Catholic schools, even though the owners of the fund so desire it. But we cannot concede the proposition that Indians cannot be allowed to use their own money to educate their children in the schools of their own choice because the government is necessarily undenominational, as it cannot make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The court of appeals well said:
The "treaty" and "trust" moneys are the only moneys that the Indians can lay claim to as matter of right; the only sums on which they are entitled to rely as theirs for education; and while these moneys are not delivered to them in hand, yet the money must not only be provided, but be expended, for their benefit, and in part for their education; it seems inconceivable that Congress shall have intended to prohibit them from receiving religious education at their own cost if they desire it; such an intent would be one to prohibit the free exercise of religion amongst the Indians, and such would be the effect of the construction for which the complainants contend.
The … trust cannot be deprived of their rights by the trustee in the exercise of power implied.
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