October 23, 2012

Cases of Interest to the School Community 1999–2000 Term

First Amendment

Mitchell v. Helms, 98-1648

Can religious schools participate in a government program that lends computers, software, and library books to secular schools?

Decision: Yes. The Court ruled 6-3 that Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 is not a law respecting an establishment of religion.

From the plurality opinion by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Kennedy):

Applying the two relevant Agostini [ v. Felton] criteria, we see no basis for concluding that Jefferson Parish’s Chapter 2 program “has the effect of advancing religion.” Chapter 2 does not result in governmental indoctrination, because it determines eligibility for aid neutrally, allocates that aid based on the private choices of the parents of schoolchildren, and does not provide aid that has an impermissible content. Nor does Chapter 2 define its recipients by reference to religion.

Concurring: Justice O’Connor (joined by Justice Breyer)
Dissenting: Justice Souter (joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg)

Opinion and briefs: supreme.findlaw.com/Supreme_Court/docket/decdocket.html#98-1648

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