Mitchell v. Helms
530 U.S. 793 (2000)

  • Congress passed the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act. Chapter 2 of the Act provided funds to buy books and educational materials.
    • Private schools, even religious schools could get Chapter 2 funds, provided they were used for “secular, neutral, and non-ideological” programs.”
  • Helms and others sued, claiming that Chapter 2 was a violation of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause, because it allowed religious schools to get public money.
  • The Trial Court found Chapter 2 to be unconstitutional.
    • The Trial Court found that Chapter 2 was a violation of the Establishment Clause because it had the primary effect of advancing religion.
      • The law gave public money to schools that were very sectarian.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Chapter 2 was not a violation of the Establishment Clause because it was neutral, and gave money to all schools equally.
      • “If the religious, irreligious, and areligious are all alike eligible for governmental aid, no one would conclude that any indoctrination that any particular recipient conducts has been done at the behest of the government.”
    • The Court applied the Lemon Test, and found that Chapter 2 did have a secular purpose, did not have the primary effect of advancing a religion, and did not involve excessive entanglement between government and religion.
      • See Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602 (1971)).
  • This decision was similar to Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia (515 U.S. 819 (1995)). In both cases the Court found that as long as you give funds to everyone equally, the fact that some religious organizations get some doesn’t automatically make it a violation of the Establishment Clause.