The Religious Freedom Page

Mitchell v. Helms

121 s.Ct. 15 (2000)

Facts of the Case:

Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 allowed for loaning educational material and equipment to public and private schools, with one of the requirements for the loan being that the loaned items had to be neutral and non-ideological.  In Jefferson Parish, a local government unit in Louisiana, nearly 30% of the funds were allotted to primarily religiously affiliated private schools.  A group of taxpayers sued claiming that this was a violation of the Establishment Clause as the loans constituted government aid to sectarian schools, which would in turn advance religion.


In a 6-3 decision the court ruled that it was permissible for loans to be made to religious schools in this manner under Chapter 2.  Justices Thomas, Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy, O'Connor, and Breyer were in the majority, with Justices Souter, Stevens, and Ginsberg dissenting.

Majority Opinion:  (Justice Thomas:)

The Court ruled that the loans were permissible because they in no way represented a governmental indoctrination or advancement of religion.  The loans were made in a nondiscriminatory and constitutional fashion to both secular and non-secular schools.  "Whether governmental aid to religious schools results in religious indoctrination ultimately depends on whether any indoctrination that occurs could reasonably be attributed to governmental action."  As the contents of the loans were appropriate for both religious and public schools the government was not serving to advance religion.

Dissenting Opinion: (Justice Souter:)

Public funds cannot be used as recources for religiosly affiliated schools as the use of funds tends to aid the "schools religious exercise or discharge of its religious mission."  Even if the aid is distributed in a neutral fashion, it is permissible only if it is purely secular in nature with only secular benefits, and cases where this occures are extrememly limited.


Government aid for religiously affiliated schools is not inconsistent with the establishment of religion clause and thereby permissable.  This decision also overruled the portions of Meek v. Pittenger (Meek) and Wolmen v. Walter (Wolman) that ran contrary to his new ruling.

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Last modified: 02/19/01