Nov 22, 2004

Teachers taking part in the taxpayer-funded AmeriCorps program should not be permitted to engage in religious instruction at sectarian schools, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has advised a federal appeals court.

The AmeriCorps program, run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, provides stipends called “national service education awards” to individuals for work at certain locations around the country.

Some of these positions are at religious schools, and some of the award recipients teach religion and lead religious activities as part of their work at these schools. A U.S. District Court ruled July 2 that the arrangement is unconstitutional. The federal government has appealed.

“This program provides teachers to parochial schools at taxpayer expense,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It is patently unconstitutional.”

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed today, Americans United asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to rule against religion subsidies in the program.

“Here, religious institutions actually use AmeriCorps participants and grant funds for religious instruction and activities,” reads the brief. “The government has failed to create an effective system for monitoring how the aid is used. The aid consists of religious instructors who have received religious training from faith-based institutions. And the instructors perform core teaching functions at parochial schools.”

Joining Americans United in the brief are the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and People For the American Way Foundation. The case is Corporation for National and Community Service v. American Jewish Congress.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.