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Aguilar v. Felton

473 U.S. 402 (1985)

Facts of the Case:

New York City allowed for the reimbursement of the salaries of public employees who taught in parochial schools (Title I program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965). The teachers were sent there to assist low-income children with special needs. The city selected the teachers and supervised their instruction. A group of taxpayers brought suit claiming that the program violated the Establishment Clause.


In a 5-4 decision, the Court invalidated New York City's plan to pay the salaries of public employees who offered remedial assistance to low-income students.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Brennan)

The supervision New York City uses to ensure that the public employees do not engage in religious instruction creates excessive entanglement between the government and religion. Even though the state's aid to the parochial school does not have the primary effect of advancing religion, the closeness of the interaction between the two bodies has that result. "In short, the religious school, which has as a primary purpose the advancement and preservation of a particular religion must endure the ongoing presence of state personnel whose primary purpose is to monitor teachers and students in an attempt to guard against the infiltration of religious thought." Additionally, the state will be required to work with the religious schools to coordinate schedules and any problems that might result.

Dissenting Opinion: (Justice Burger:)

Finding this statute unconstitutional "under the guise of protect[ing] Americans from the evils of an Established Church" will force many students to be denied, "desperately needed remedial teaching services."  The statute does not create a relevant threat to religious liberty and is necessary to promote the beneficial secular end of education.


Although the Court recognizes that the intent of the statute was secular, the potential for religious advancement makes it unconstitutional. Once again the Court is weary of allowing public instructors into religious classrooms for fear that they may engage in religious instruction.

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