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Mitchell v. Helms

Citation. 530 U.S. 793, 120 S. Ct. 2530, 147 L. Ed. 2d 660, 2000 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

A School aid program provides federal funds to support parochial schools.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The government may provide aid to parochial schools as long as the aid does not 1) have the effect of advancing religion; 2) result in governmental indoctrination; and 3) have impermissible content.


The Federal school aide program, Chapter 2, distributes money to state and local agencies to lend educational material and equipment to pubic and private schools. Some of the materials covered include library services, computer hardware and software. The program requires the aid to be used for “secular, neutral, and non-ideological” materials. Currently 41 of the 46 private schools receiving aid are religious schools.


Does the government violate the Establishment Clause by providing instructional material to parochial schools?


No. Chapter 2 does not indoctrinate religion or define the recipient by religion. The program does not advance religion nor does it provide aid with a particular religious content.


There are insufficient safeguards within the program. The aid provided could have easily been used in the instruction of religion and for religious purposes.
Concurrence. The program has built in safeguards to prevent the support of religious programs by limiting aid to “secular and neutral” equipment.


Indoctrination occurs when such activity could reasonably be attributed to the government. The key factor for determining this is neutrality of the application of a program. It must be offered to all schools without regard to religious affiliations, as it was here.

Constitutional Law Keyed to Cohen & Varat (Eleventh Edition)


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