Mitchell v. Helms Case Brief

Summary of Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793 (2000)

Facts: Under Chp 2 fed Govt distributes aid to state and local Govt who then lend materials and equipment to public and private schools w/ amt based on the enrollment figures. Grants are limited to private schools: material and equip must be secular, neutral, and nonideological, plus private schools cannot acquire control over the funds or title to property. LA Govt lends the material and equip to school after request has been submitted and approved. In one parish, private schools have primarily used their allocation for nonrecurring expenses–material & equip.-which on average Amts to 30% of Chp 2 funds spent therein go to private schools.

Issue(s): Is Chp 2, as applied in LA, a law respecting the Est of Religion when a large number of the schools rec’vg funding are religious schools?

Holding: No, there’s nothing in Est Cl that requires exclusion of sectarian schools from rec’vg otherwise permissible aid. The Chp 2 program has no effect of advanc’g religion; does not result in Govt indoctrination b/c eligibility is deter under neutral factors; allocation of aid is deter by private parents, not Govt defining recipient by religion; and aid does not contain religious content.

Procedure: Respond filed suit; D. Ct upheld Chp 2; Ct of App Reversed H: UnConst’l; U.S.S.Ct Reversed LA parish need not exclude religious schools from Chp 2 aid program.

Rule(s): 1st Est Cl.

Rationale: Under Agostini there is no challenge to the purpose of the law, so only address ‘effect’ prong. Q: does Govt aid to religious schools result in Govt indoctrination? Look at if Govt action could Rbly lead to C: Indoctrination will answer if program subsidizes religion, but must distinguish btwn indoctrination by Govt and indoctrination that is not by Govt.

1) Neutrality provides answer. IF all, w/o regard for religion, rec’v aid or offers of aid, then the law is Neutral and indoctrination, if any, is not the result of Govt.

Private Choice: To assure neutrality, any aid to sectarian bodies must be the result of genuinely indy and private choices of individuals. Priv choices mitigate the preference for pre-existing recipients to Govt aid programs which could lead to Govt favoring one religion or religious schools over nonreligious. Private choices are not the will of Govt.

2) Incentive consider if aid program defines recipients by reference to religion by looking at the same facts under Neutrality analysis. Does it create a $ incentive to undertake religious indoctrination. If not then the private choice is Indy. If yes, then a greater risk exists that Govt indoctrination of religion.

Simply b/c an aid program offers private schools and religious schools a benefit that they did not previously rec’v does not mean the program, by reducing the cost of securing religious education, creates under Agostini, an incentive to choose religious education.

3) Diversion Recent cases hold that if aid, even direct aid, is neutrally available, and before it reaches sectarian schools, private choices direct the aid elsewhere, Govt has not provided any support of religion. The Est Cl does not require literal hand to hand progression of aid. Here, direct payment of money is not at issue. Aid to religious schools cannot be religious in nature, but if Govt aid is not itself unsuitable in public schools b/c of religious content, any aid that is diverted in a Const’l manner and used to indoctrinate cannot be attributable to Govt. Too remote.

DISSENT: 1st Amend bars compelling indiv to support religion; any Govt aid corrupts religion; and Govt establishment of religion is inextricably linked with conflict.

Pl’s A: (Respon) Direct nonincidental financial aid to the primary education mission of religious schools is always UnConst’l. Similarly, so to are any provisions allowing a diversion of aid to religious schools. Est Cl requires that aid to religious schools cannot be religious in nature or be divertible for religious use.



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