MITCHELL v. HELMS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
98-1648
Petitioner 
Mitchell
Respondent 
Helms
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondents Mary L. Helms, et al)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondent United States in support of the petitioners)
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Facts of the Case 

Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 provides for the allocation of funds for educational materials and equipment, including library materials and computer software and hardware, to public and private elementary and secondary schools to implement "secular, neutral, and nonideological" programs. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, about 30% of Chapter 2 funds are allocated for private schools, most of which are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated. Mary Helms and other public school parents file suit alleging that Chapter 2, as applied in Jefferson Parish, violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The District Court initially agreed, finding that Chapter 2 had the primary effect of advancing religion because the materials and equipment loaned to the Catholic schools were direct aid and that the schools were pervasively sectarian. However, after the presiding judge who made the initial ruling retired, the case was reviewed by a new judge, who reversed that decision. Thereafter, based on different precedent, the court upheld Chapter 2. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held Chapter 2 unconstitutional.

Question 

Does Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Mitchell, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

No. In a 6-3 plurality decision delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that that Chapter 2, as applied in Jefferson Parish, is not a law respecting an establishment of religion simply because many of the private schools receiving Chapter 2 aid in the parish are religiously affiliated. Turning to neutrality to distinguish between indoctrination attributable to the State and that which is not, Justice Thomas wrote for the Court, "[i]f 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."

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MITCHELL v. HELMS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 18 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1999/1999_98_1648>.
MITCHELL v. HELMS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1999/1999_98_1648 (last visited September 18, 2014).
"MITCHELL v. HELMS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1999/1999_98_1648.