Mitchell v. Helms
530 U.S. 793
Case Year: 2000
Case Ruling: 6-3, Reversed
Opinion Justice: Thomas
Court Opinion Joiner(s):
Breyer, Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia
1st Concurring Opinion
1st Dissenting Opinion
Joiner(s): Ginsburg, Stevens
2nd Concurring Opinion
2nd Dissenting Opinion
3rd Concurring Opinion
3rd Dissenting Opinion
Other Concurring Opinions:
Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 allows the allocation of federal funds to local educational agencies (LEAs), via state education agencies (SEAs), to implement programs to assist children in elementary and secondary schools. Both public and nonprofit private schools are eligible for the assistance. The amount of aid is based on the number of students enrolled in the school, and among other provisions, the act allows for the acquisition of instructional materials and equipment. Services, materials, and equipment provided must be secular, neutral, and nonideological. Private schools submit applications to the LEA requesting specific items and detailing how they will be used. If approved, the LEA purchases the items and loans them to the private school. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, about 30 percent of Chapter 2 funds were spent on requests from private schools.
For the 1986-1987 academic year, forty-six private schools in the parish received such aid. Thirty-four were Roman Catholic, seven were otherwise religiously affiliated, and five had no religious association. Among the materials and equipment provided were library books; computers and computer software; overhead, slide, and movie projectors; television sets; tape recorders; VCRs; projection screens; laboratory equipment; maps and globes; and filmstrips, slides, and cassette recordings.
Mary Helms and others filed a lawsuit challenging the expenditures on Establishment Clause grounds in 1985. Over the next fifteen years the case made its way through various lower court hearings, a process that was slowed in part by the Supreme Court's changing and often conflicting Establishment Clause rulings. Ultimately, the federal district court district court upheld the law, but the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed.
JUSTICE THOMAS ANNOUNCED THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT AND DELIVERED AN OPINION, IN WHICH THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE SCALIA, AND JUSTICE KENNEDY JOIN.
... The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment dictates that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." In the over 50 years since Everson [ v. Board of Education (1947)], we have consistently struggled to apply these simple words in the context of governmental aid to religious schools. As we admitted in Tilton v. Richardson (1971), "candor compels the acknowledgment that we can only dimly perceive the boundaries of permissible government activity in this sensitive area."...
In Agostini [ v. Felton (1997)], however, we brought some clarity to our case law, by overruling two anomalous precedents (one in whole, the other in part) and by consolidating some of our previously disparate considerations under a revised test. Whereas in Lemon [ v. Kurtzman (1971)] we had considered whether a statute (1) has a secular purpose, (2) has a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, or (3) creates an excessive entanglement between government and religion, ... inAgostini we modified Lemon for purposes of evaluating aid to schools and examined only the first and second factors.... We acknowledged that our cases discussing excessive entanglement had applied many of the same considerations as had our cases discussing primary effect, and we therefore recast Lemon's entanglement inquiry as simply one criterion relevant to determining a statute's effect.... We also acknowledged that our cases had pared somewhat the factors that could justify a finding of excessive entanglement. We then set out revised criteria for determining the effect of a statute:
"To summarize, New York City's Title I program does not run afoul of any of three primary criteria we currently use to evaluate whether government aid has the effect of advancing religion: It does not result in governmental indoctrination; define its recipients by reference to religion; or create an excessive entanglement."...
In this case, our inquiry under Agostini's purpose and effect test is a narrow one. Because respondents do not challenge the District Court's holding that Chapter 2 has a secular purpose, and because the Fifth Circuit also did not question that holding, ... we will consider only Chapter 2's effect. Further, in determining that effect, we will consider only the first twoAgostini criteria, since neither respondents nor the Fifth Circuit has questioned the District Court's holding ... that Chapter 2 does not create an excessive entanglement. Considering Chapter 2 in light of our more recent case law, we conclude that it neither results in religious indoctrination by the government nor defines its recipients by reference to religion. We therefore hold that Chapter 2 is not a "law respecting an establishment of religion." In so holding, we acknowledge what [the lower courts have seen as] inescapable-- Meek [ v. Pittenger (1975)] and Wolman [ v. Walter (1977)] are anomalies in our case law. We therefore conclude that they are no longer good law.
As we indicated in Agostini, and have indicated elsewhere, the question whether governmental aid to religious schools results in governmental indoctrination is ultimately a question whether any religious indoctrination that occurs in those schools could reasonably be attributed to governmental action.... We have also indicated that the answer to the question of indoctrination will resolve the question whether a program of educational aid "subsidizes" religion, as our religion cases use that term....
In distinguishing between indoctrination that is attributable to the State and indoctrination that is not, we have consistently turned to the principle of neutrality, upholding aid that is offered to a broad range of groups or persons without regard to their religion. 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. For attribution of indoctrination is a relative question. If the government is offering assistance to recipients who provide, so to speak, a broad range of indoctrination, the government itself is not thought responsible for any particular indoctrination. To put the point differently, if the government, seeking to further some legitimate secular purpose, offers aid on the same terms, without regard to religion, to all who adequately further that purpose, ... then it is fair to say that any aid going to a religious recipient only has the effect of furthering that secular purpose. The government, in crafting such an aid program, has had to conclude that a given level of aid is necessary to further that purpose among secular recipients and has provided no more than that same level to religious recipients.
As a way of assuring neutrality, we have repeatedly considered whether any governmental aid that goes to a religious institution does so "only as a result of the genuinely independent and private choices of individuals." Agostini. We have viewed as significant whether the "private choices of individual parents," as opposed to the "unmediated" will of government, ... determine what schools ultimately benefit from the governmental aid, and how much. For if numerous private choices, rather than the single choice of a government, determine the distribution of aid pursuant to neutral eligibility criteria, then a government cannot, or at least cannot easily, grant special favors that might lead to a religious establishment. Private choice also helps guarantee neutrality by mitigating the preference for pre-existing recipients that is arguably inherent in any governmental aid program and that could lead to a program ... inadvertently favoring one religion or favoring religious private schools in general over nonreligious ones....
Agostini's second primary criterion for determining the effect of governmental aid is closely related to the first. The second criterion requires a court to consider whether an aid program "define[s] its recipients by reference to religion." As we briefly explained in Agostini, this second criterion looks to the same set of facts as does our focus, under the first criterion, on neutrality, ... but the second criterion uses those facts to answer a somewhat different question--whether the criteria for allocating the aid "creat[e] a financial incentive to undertake religious indoctrination."... In Agostini we set out the following rule for answering this question:
"This incentive is not present, however, where the aid is allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria that neither favor nor disfavor religion, and is made available to both religious and secular beneficiaries on a nondiscriminatory basis. Under such circumstances, the aid is less likely to have the effect of advancing religion."...
The cases on which Agostini relied for this rule, and Agostini itself, make clear the close relationship between this rule, incentives, and private choice. For to say that a program does not create an incentive to choose religious schools is to say that the private choice is truly "independent."... When such an incentive does exist, there is a greater risk that one could attribute to the government any indoctrination by the religious schools....
We hasten to add, what should be obvious from the rule itself, that simply because an aid program offers private schools, and thus religious schools, a benefit that they did not previously receive does not mean that the program, by reducing the cost of securing a religious education, creates, under Agostini's second criterion, an "incentive" for parents to choose such an education for their children. For any aid will have some such effect....
Respondents inexplicably make no effort to address Chapter 2 under the Agostini test. Instead, dismissing Agostini as factually distinguishable, they offer two rules that they contend should govern our determination of whether Chapter 2 has the effect of advancing religion. They argue first, and chiefly, that "direct, nonincidental" aid to the primary educational mission of religious schools is always impermissible. Second, they argue that provision to religious schools of aid that is divertible to religious use is similarly impermissible.Respondents' arguments are inconsistent with our more recent case law, in particular Agostiniand Zobrest [ v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993)], and we therefore reject them.
Although some of our earlier cases ... did emphasize the distinction between direct and indirect aid, the purpose of this distinction was merely to prevent "subsidization" of religion.... As even the dissent all but admits, ... our more recent cases address this purpose not through the direct/indirect distinction but rather through the principle of private choice, as incorporated in the first Agostini criterion ( i.e., whether any indoctrination could be attributed to the government). If aid to schools, even "direct aid," is neutrally available and, before reaching or benefiting any religious school, first passes through the hands (literally or figuratively) of numerous private citizens who are free to direct the aid elsewhere, the government has not provided any "support of religion," Witters. Although the presence of private choice is easier to see when aid literally passes through the hands of individuals--which is why we have mentioned directness in the same breath with private choice, ... there is no reason why the Establishment Clause requires such a form.
Indeed, Agostini expressly rejected the absolute line that respondents would have us draw. We there explained that "we have departed from the rule ... that all government aid that directly assists the educational function of religious schools is invalid."...
Of course, we have seen "special Establishment Clause dangers" ... when money is given to religious schools or entities directly rather than indirectly.... But direct payments of money are not at issue in this case, and we refuse to allow a "special" case to create a rule for all cases.
Respondents also contend that the Establishment Clause requires that aid to religious schools not be impermissibly religious in nature or be divertible to religious use. We agree with the first part of this argument but not the second. Respondents' "no divertibility" rule is inconsistent with our more recent case law and is unworkable. So long as the governmental aid is not itself "unsuitable for use in the public schools because of religious content" ... and eligibility for aid is determined in a constitutionally permissible manner, any use of that aid to indoctrinate cannot be attributed to the government and is thus not of constitutional concern. And, of course, the use to which the aid is put does not affect the criteria governing the aid's allocation and thus does not create any impermissible incentive under Agostini's second criterion....
The issue is not divertibility of aid but rather whether the aid itself has an impermissible content. Where the aid would be suitable for use in a public school, it is also suitable for use in any private school. Similarly, the prohibition against the government providing impermissible content resolves the Establishment Clause concerns that exist if aid is actually diverted to religious uses....
A concern for divertibility, as opposed to improper content, is misplaced not only because it fails to explain why the sort of aid that we have allowed is permissible, but also because it is boundless--enveloping all aid, no matter how trivial--and thus has only the most attenuated (if any) link to any realistic concern for preventing an "establishment of religion." Presumably, for example, government-provided lecterns, chalk, crayons, pens, paper, and paintbrushes would have to be excluded from religious schools under respondents' proposed rule. But we fail to see how indoctrination by means of ( i.e. , diversion of) such aid could be attributed to the government.In fact, the risk of improper attribution is less when the aid lacks content, for there is no risk (as there is with books), of the government inadvertently providing improper content.... Finally, anyaid, with or without content, is "divertible" in the sense that it allows schools to "divert" resources. Yet we have "'not accepted the recurrent argument that all aid is forbidden because aid to one aspect of an institution frees it to spend its other resources on religious ends.'" Hunt v. McNair (1973).
It is perhaps conceivable that courts could take upon themselves the task of distinguishing among the myriad kinds of possible aid based on the ease of diverting each kind. But it escapes us how a court might coherently draw any such line. It not only is far more workable, but also is actually related to real concerns about preventing advancement of religion by government, simply to require, as did Zobrest, Agostini, and Allen, that a program of aid to schools not provide improper content and that it determine eligibility and allocate the aid on a permissible basis....
One of the dissent's factors deserves special mention: whether a school that receives aid (or whose students receive aid) is pervasively sectarian. The dissent is correct that there was a period when this factor mattered, particularly if the pervasively sectarian school was a primary or secondary school.... But that period is one that the Court should regret, and it is thankfully long past.
There are numerous reasons to formally dispense with this factor. First, its relevance in our precedents is in sharp decline. Although our case law has consistently mentioned it even in recent years, we have not struck down an aid program in reliance on this factor since 1985....
Second, the religious nature of a recipient should not matter to the constitutional analysis, so long as the recipient adequately furthers the government's secular purpose.... If a program offers permissible aid to the religious (including the pervasively sectarian), the areligious, and the irreligious, it is a mystery which view of religion the government has established, and thus a mystery what the constitutional violation would be. The pervasively sectarian recipient has not received any special favor, and it is most bizarre that the Court would, as the dissent seemingly does, reserve special hostility for those who take their religion seriously, who think that their religion should affect the whole of their lives, or who make the mistake of being effective in transmitting their views to children.
Third, the inquiry into the recipient's religious views required by a focus on whether a school is pervasively sectarian is not only unnecessary but also offensive. It is well established, in numerous other contexts, that courts should refrain from trolling through a person's or institution's religious beliefs....
Finally, hostility to aid to pervasively sectarian schools has a shameful pedigree that we do not hesitate to disavow.... Opposition to aid to "sectarian" schools acquired prominence in the 1870's with Congress's consideration (and near passage) of the Blaine Amendment, which would have amended the Constitution to bar any aid to sectarian institutions. Consideration of the amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that "sectarian" was code for "Catholic."...
In short, nothing in the Establishment Clause requires the exclusion of pervasively sectarian schools from otherwise permissible aid programs, and other doctrines of this Court bar it. This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.
Applying the two relevant Agostini criteria, we see no basis for concluding that Jefferson Parish's Chapter 2 program "has the effect of advancing religion." Chapter 2 does not result in governmental indoctrination, because it determines eligibility for aid neutrally, allocates that aid based on the private choices of the parents of schoolchildren, and does not provide aid that has an impermissible content. Nor does Chapter 2 define its recipients by reference to religion....
In short, Chapter 2 satisfies both the first and second primary criteria of Agostini It therefore does not have the effect of advancing religion. For the same reason, Chapter 2 also "cannot reasonably be viewed as an endorsement of religion,"... Accordingly, we hold that Chapter 2 is not a law respecting an establishment of religion. Jefferson Parish need not exclude religious schools from its Chapter 2 program. To the extent that Meek and Wolman conflict with this holding, we overrule them....
The judgment of the Fifth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, WITH WHOM JUSTICE BREYER JOINS, CONCURRING IN THE JUDGMENT.
... I believe that Agostini ... controls the constitutional inquiry respecting Title II presented here, and requires the reversal of the Court of Appeals' judgment that the program is unconstitutional as applied in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. To the extent our decisions in Meek v. Pittenger (1975), and Wolman v. Walter (1977), are inconsistent with the Court's judgment today, I agree that those decisions should be overruled. I therefore concur in the judgment.
I write separately because, in my view, the plurality announces a rule of unprecedented breadth for the evaluation of Establishment Clause challenges to government school-aid programs. Reduced to its essentials, the plurality's rule states that government aid to religious schools does not have the effect of advancing religion so long as the aid is offered on a neutral basis and the aid is secular in content. The plurality also rejects the distinction between direct and indirect aid, and holds that the actual diversion of secular aid by a religious school to the advancement of its religious mission is permissible. Although the expansive scope of the plurality's rule is troubling, two specific aspects of the opinion compel me to write separately. First, the plurality's treatment of neutrality comes close to assigning that factor singular importance in the future adjudication of Establishment Clause challenges to government school-aid programs. Second, the plurality's approval of actual diversion of government aid to religious indoctrination is in tension with our precedents and, in any event, unnecessary to decide the instant case....
I do not quarrel with the plurality's recognition that neutrality is an important reason for upholding government-aid programs against Establishment Clause challenges. Our cases have described neutrality in precisely this manner, and we have emphasized a program's neutrality repeatedly in our decisions approving various forms of school aid.... Nevertheless, we have never held that a government-aid program passes constitutional muster solely because of the neutral criteria it employs as a basis for distributing aid....
I also disagree with the plurality's conclusion that actual diversion of government aid to religious indoctrination is consistent with the Establishment Clause. Although "[o]ur cases have permitted some government funding of secular functions performed by sectarian organizations," our decisions "provide no precedent for the use of public funds to finance religious activities." Rosenberger [ v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia (1995)], (O'CONNOR, concurring)....
... Like JUSTICE SOUTER, I do not believe that we should treat a per-capita-aid program the same as the true private-choice programs.... First, when the government provides aid directly to the student beneficiary, that student can attend a religious school and yet retain control over whether the secular government aid will be applied toward the religious education. The fact that aid flows to the religious school and is used for the advancement of religion is therefore whollydependent on the student's private decision....
Second, I believe the distinction between a per-capita school-aid program and a true private-choice program is significant for purposes of endorsement.... In terms of public perception, a government program of direct aid to religious schools based on the number of students attending each school differs meaningfully from the government distributing aid directly to individual students who, in turn, decide to use the aid at the same religious schools. In the former example, if the religious school uses the aid to inculcate religion in its students, it is reasonable to say that the government has communicated a message of endorsement.... In contrast, when government aid supports a school's religious mission only because of independent decisions made by numerous individuals to guide their secular aid to that school, "[n]o reasonable observer is likely to draw from the facts ... an inference that the State itself is endorsing a religious practice or belief."Witters [ v. Washington Department of Services for the Blind (1986)](O'CONNOR, concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Rather, endorsement of the religious message is reasonably attributed to the individuals who select the path of the aid.
Finally, the distinction between a per-capita-aid program and a true private-choice program is important when considering aid that consists of direct monetary subsidies. This Court has "recognized special Establishment Clause dangers where the government makes direct money payments to sectarian institutions." Rosenberger. If, as the plurality contends, a per-capita-aid program is identical in relevant constitutional respects to a true private-choice program, then there is no reason that, under the plurality's reasoning, the government should be precluded from providing direct money payments to religious organizations (including churches) based on the number of persons belonging to each organization....
Our school-aid cases often pose difficult questions at the intersection of the neutrality and no-aid principles and therefore defy simple categorization under either rule.... Agostini represents our most recent attempt to devise a general framework for approaching questions concerning neutral school-aid programs. Agostini also concerned an Establishment Clause challenge to a school-aid program closely related to the one at issue here. For these reasons, as well as my disagreement with the plurality's approach, I would decide today's case by applying the criteria set forth in Agostini....
Given the important similarities between the Chapter 2 program here and the Title I program at issue in Agostini, respondents' Establishment Clause challenge must fail. As in Agostini, the Chapter 2 aid is allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria; the aid must be supplementary and cannot supplant non-Federal funds; no Chapter 2 funds ever reach the coffers of religious schools; the aid must be secular; any evidence of actual diversion is de minimis; and the program includes adequate safeguards. Regardless of whether these factors are constitutional requirements, they are surely sufficient to find that the program at issue here does not have the impermissible effect of advancing religion. For the same reasons, "this carefully constrained program also cannot reasonably be viewed as an endorsement of religion." Agostini.Accordingly, I concur in the judgment.
JUSTICE SOUTER WITH WHOM JUSTICE STEVENS AND JUSTICE GINSBURG JOIN, DISSENTING.
... The prohibition that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" ... eludes elegant conceptualization simply because the prohibition applies to such distinct phenomena as state churches and aid to religious schools, and as applied to school aid has prompted challenges to programs ranging from construction subsidies to hearing aids to textbook loans. Any criteria, moreover, must not only define the margins of the establishment prohibition, but must respect the succeeding Clause of the First Amendment guaranteeing religion's free exercise.... It is no wonder that the complementary constitutional provisions and the inexhaustably various circumstances of their applicability have defied any simple test and have instead produced a combination of general rules often in tension at their edges. If coherence is to be had, the Court has to keep in mind the principal objectives served by the Establishment Clause, and its application to school aid, and their recollection may help to explain the misunderstandings that underlie the majority's result in this case....
... [T]together with James Madison we have consistently understood the Establishment Clause to impose a substantive prohibition against public aid to religion and, hence, to the religious mission of sectarian schools. Evenhandedness neutrality is one, nondispositive pointer toward an intent and (to a lesser degree) probable effect on the permissible side of the line between forbidden aid and general public welfare benefit. Other pointers are facts about the religious mission and education level of benefited schools and their pupils, the pathway by which a benefit travels from public treasury to educational effect, the form and content of the aid, its adaptability to religious ends, and its effects on school budgets. The object of all enquiries into such matters is the same whatever the particular circumstances: is the benefit intended to aid in providing the religious element of the education and is it likely to do so?
The substance of the law has thus not changed since Everson. Emphasis on one sort of fact or another has varied depending on the perceived utility of the enquiry, but all that has been added is repeated explanation of relevant considerations, confirming that our predecessors were right in their prophecies that no simple test would emerge to allow easy application of the establishment principle.
The plurality, however, would reject that lesson. The majority misapplies it.
The nub of the plurality's new position is this:
"[I]f the government, seeking to further some legitimate secular purpose, offers aid on the same terms, without regard to religion, to all who adequately further that purpose, then it is fair to say that any aid going to a religious recipient only has the effect of furthering that secular purpose. The government, in crafting such an aid program, has had to conclude that a given level of aid is necessary to further that purpose among secular recipients and has provided no more than that same level to religious recipients."...
As a break with consistent doctrine the plurality's new criterion is unequaled in the history of Establishment Clause interpretation. Simple on its face, it appears to take evenhandedness neutrality and in practical terms promote it to a single and sufficient test for the establishment constitutionality of school aid....
The plurality's conception of evenhandedness does not, however, control the case, whose disposition turns on the misapplication of accepted categories of school aid analysis. The facts most obviously relevant to the Chapter 2 scheme in Jefferson Parish are those showing divertibility and actual diversion in the circumstance of pervasively sectarian religious schools. The type of aid, the structure of the program, and the lack of effective safeguards clearly demonstrate the divertibility of the aid. While little is known about its use, owing to the anemic enforcement system in the parish, even the thin record before us reveals that actual diversion occurred.
The aid that the government provided was highly susceptible to unconstitutional use. Much of the equipment provided under Chapter 2 was not of the type provided for individual students, ... but included "slide projectors, movie projectors, overhead projectors, television sets, tape recorders, projection screens, maps, globes, filmstrips, cassettes, computers," and computer software and peripherals, ... as well as library books and materials. The videocassette players, overhead projectors, and other instructional aids were of the sort that we have found can easily be used by religious teachers for religious purposes.... The same was true of the computers, which were as readily employable for religious teaching as the other equipment, and presumably as immune to any countervailing safeguard.... Although library books, like textbooks, have fixed content, religious teachers can assign secular library books for religious critique, and books for libraries may be religious, as any divinity school library would demonstrate. The sheer number and variety of books that could be and were ordered gave ample opportunity for such diversion.
The divertibility thus inherent in the forms of Chapter 2 aid was enhanced by the structure of the program in Jefferson Parish. Requests for specific items under Chapter 2 came not from secular officials, ... but from officials of the religious schools.... The sectarian schools decided what they wanted and often ordered the supplies ... to be forwarded directly to themselves. It was easy to select whatever instructional materials and library books the schools wanted, just as it was easy to employ computers for the support of the religious content of the curriculum infused with religious instruction.
The concern with divertibility thus predicated is underscored by the fact that the religious schools in question here covered the primary and secondary grades, the grades in which the sectarian nature of instruction is characteristically the most pervasive, ... and in which pupils are the least critical of the schools' religious objectives.... No one, indeed, disputes the trial judge's findings, based on a detailed record, that the Roman Catholic schools, which made up the majority of the private schools participating, were pervasively sectarian, that their common objective and mission was to engage in religious education, and that their teachers taught religiously, making them precisely the kind of primary and secondary religious schools that raise the most serious Establishment Clause concerns.... The threat to Establishment Clause values was accordingly at its highest in the circumstances of this case. Such precautionary features as there were in the Jefferson Parish scheme were grossly inadequate to counter the threat. To be sure, the disbursement of the aid was subject to statutory admonitions against diversion, ... and was supposedly subject to a variety of safeguards.... But the provisions for onsite monitoring visits, labeling of government property, and government oversight cannot be accepted as sufficient in the face of record evidence that the safeguard provisions proved to be empty phrases in Jefferson Parish....
The risk of immediate diversion of Chapter 2 benefits had its complement in the risk of future diversion, against which the Jefferson Parish program had absolutely no protection. By statute all purchases with Chapter 2 aid were to remain the property of the United States, ... merely being "lent" to the recipient nonpublic schools. In actuality, however, the record indicates that nothing in the Jefferson Parish program stood in the way of giving the Chapter 2 property outright to the religious schools when it became older. Although old equipment remained the property of the local education agency, a local government administrative body, one agency employee testified that there was no set policy for dealing with old computers, which were probably given outright to the religious schools.... The witness said that government-funded instructional materials, too, were probably left with the religious schools when they were old, and that it was unclear whether library books were ever to be returned to the government....
Providing such governmental aid without effective safeguards against future diversion itself offends the Establishment Clause, ... and even without evidence of actual diversion, our cases have repeatedly held that a "substantial risk" of it suffices to invalidate a government aid program on establishment grounds.... A substantial risk of diversion in this case was more than clear, as the plurality has conceded. The First Amendment was violated....
The plurality is candid in pointing out the extent of actual diversion of Chapter 2 aid to religious use in the case before us, ... and equally candid in saying it does not matter.... To the plurality there is nothing wrong with aiding a school's religious mission; the only question is whether religious teaching obtains its tax support under a formally evenhanded criterion of distribution. The principle of no aid to religious teaching has no independent significance.
And if this were not enough to prove that no aid in religious school aid is dead under the plurality's First Amendment, the point is nailed down in the plurality's attack on the legitimacy of considering a school's pervasively sectarian character when judging whether aid to the school is likely to aid its religious mission.... The relevance of this consideration is simply a matter of common sense: where religious indoctrination pervades school activities of children and adolescents, it takes great care to be able to aid the school without supporting the doctrinal effort. This is obvious. The plurality nonetheless condemns any enquiry into the pervasiveness of doctrinal content as a remnant of anti-Catholic bigotry (as if evangelical Protestant schools and Orthodox Jewish yeshivas were never pervasively sectarian), and it equates a refusal to aid religious schools with hostility to religion. My concern with these arguments goes not so much to their details as it does to the fact that the plurality's choice to employ imputations of bigotry and irreligion as terms in the Court's debate makes one point clear: that in rejecting the principle of no aid to a school's religious mission the plurality is attacking the most fundamental assumption underlying the Establishment Clause, that government can in fact operate with neutrality in its relation to religion. I believe that it can, and so respectfully dissent.