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Mitchell v. Helms

Citation. 22 Ill.530 U.S. 793, 120 S. Ct. 2530, 147 L. Ed. 2d 660 (2000)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Respondent, Helms (Respondent), filed suit alleging that the application of Chapter 2 in Jefferson Parish Louisiana was in violation of the establishment clause, because of the large number of parochial schools who would receive the government funds associated with the Chapter.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

This case builds on Agostini’s principal that state aid can be granted to parochial schools, provided it is not misused.


Chapter 2 Aid to schools can be given to both public and private schools, with the restriction that the private schools use the funds for non-religious activities. The Respondent brought suit alleging that allotment of Chapter 2 funds in Jefferson Parish Louisiana was unconstitutionally invalid because many of the schools receiving the funds were parochial in nature and thus Chapter 2 violated the provisions of the Establishment Clause. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the statute to be invalid and the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) granted writs.


The issue in this case is whether the allotment of state aid to religious-based schools is necessarily a violation of the Establishment Clause, when those funds are ear marked for non-religious purposes.


Based on its holding in Agostini, the Supreme Court held that it is not facially unconstitutional to allot funds to religious schools, provided there is no indication that the funds will be used for a purpose other than that which is intended.


Justice David Souter (J. Souter) dissented, holding to the underlying principal of the Establishment Clause, that any funding or appearance of funding a religious-based activity is facially unconstitutional.
Concurrence. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) concurred, noting that the Establishment Clause claims must fall because the Respondent has not prevented any evidence of misuse of funds.


This case furthers the Supreme Court’s holding in Agostini, that it is overly burdensome to subject a private school to Establishment Clause criteria at the expense of the children.

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