Mitchell v. Helms

Last modified 2011.09.15


  • Status Closed
  • Type Amicus
  • Court U.S. Supreme Court
  • Issues Government-Supported Religion, Schools and Learning, Taxpayer Funding of Religion

On June 28, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court held 6-3 that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit certain types of educational equipment and materials (library books, computer hardware and software) from being loaned to religious schools under the general Title VI program. The holding was fractured, however, with no opinion commanding a majority.

Although a plurality would allow most forms of direct aid, even when it is put to religious use, provided that the program is administered with neutral criteria, a narrow majority consisting of Justices O’Connor and Breyer continued to insist on a series of safeguards for such aid to be permissible: (1) the aid must be allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria; (2) it must be supplemental to the aid that would otherwise be available to the institution; (3) no government funds must reach the coffers of the institution; (4) the aid must be secular; (5) the program must include adequate safeguards to ensure that the aid is not put to a religious use; and (6) the aid must, in actuality, not be put to religious use. Justices Souter, Stevens and Ginsburg dissented.

AU assisted with the case at trial and filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court on October 4, 1999.

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The Supreme Court just gutted decades of precedent by stripping away public school students’ religious freedom rights.

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