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Law School Case Brief

Mitchell v. Helms - 530 U.S. 793, 120 S. Ct. 2530 (2000)


The religious nature of a recipient should not matter to the constitutional analysis, so long as the recipient adequately furthers the government's secular purpose. If a program offers permissible aid to the religious (including the pervasively sectarian), the a religious, and the irreligious, it is a mystery which view of religion the government has established, and thus a mystery what the constitutional violation would be. The pervasively sectarian recipient has not received any special favor, and it is most bizarre that the Court would reserve special hostility for those who take their religion seriously, who think that their religion should affect the whole of their lives, or who make the mistake of being effective in transmitting their views to children.


Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 channels federal funds via state educational agencies (SEAs) to local educational agencies (LEA's), which in turn lend educational materials and equipment, such as library and media materials and computer software and hardware, to public and private elementary and secondary schools to implement "secular, neutral, and nonideological" programs. The enrollment of each participating school determines the amount of Chapter 2 aid that it receives. In an average year, about 30% of Chapter 2 funds spent in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, are allocated for private schools, most  of which are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated. Respondents filed suit alleging, among other things, that Chapter 2, as applied in the parish, violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause


Was Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981, 20 U.S.C.S. §§ 7301-7373 a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?




In reversing the lower court's decision, the court held that Chapter 2 was not such a law because it neither resulted in religious indoctrination by the government, because the law determined eligibility neutrally, allocated aid based on private choices, and did not provide aid that had an impermissible content, nor defined its recipients by reference to religion. To the extent that Meek v. Pettenger, 421 U.S. 349, 44 L. Ed. 2d 217 (1975)and Wolman v. Walter, 433 U.S. 229, 53 L. Ed. 2d 714, (1977), conflicted with the holding, those cases were overruled. The plurality opinion rejected any distinction between direct and indirect aid and was concerned neither with the issue of divertibility nor whether the school receiving the aid was pervasively sectarian.

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