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Agostini v. Felton

    Brief Fact Summary. This case seeks to reverse the Court’s mandate in a prior case, Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U.S. 402 (1985), on the grounds that Establishment Clause jurisprudence has changed and thereby overruled the holding of Aguilar.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case stands for the proposition that the Establishment Clause is not static, but rather dynamic and jurisprudence regarding its application needs to be reviewed in terms with societal changes.

    Facts. Aguilar mandated recipients of Title I funds to maintain the separation of church and state in their exercise of the use of the funds. This became burdensome because many of the Title I funds became tied up in vehicles for getting around the requirements of Aguilar and the funds were not serving their intended purpose. The Petitioners, Agostini and others (Petitioners), brought suit seeking to have Aguilar overturned in light of changes in Establishment Clause jurisprudence, which allowed more leniency in the way funds could be expended, provided they were not tied to particular religious activity.

    Issue. This case considers whether a prior judgment can be overturned on the basis that Establishment Clause jurisprudence invalidates its.

    Held. The Court held that Aguilar could be overturned and remanded, directing the District Court to lift its Aguilar injunctions in the interest of judicial efficiency. This holding allowed for Title I funds to be sent directly to parochial schools, for their own use, so long as it was not inconsistent with the Establishment Clause.

    Dissent. Justice David Souter (J. Souter) dissented, disagreeing with the authorization of direct State aid to religious institutions.

    Discussion. In reviewing Establishment Clause jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) will consider the current needs of society and balance them with enforcement of the clause.


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