Agostini v. Felton, Chancellor, Board of Education of the City of New York v. Felton
Decided on June 23, 1997; 521 US 203


A federally funded program providing supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged children on a neutral basis is not invalid under the Establishment Clause when such instruction is given on the premises of sectarian schools by government employees under a program containing safeguards.

 

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Establishment of Religion

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does a New York City program that sends public school teachers into parochial schools to provide remedial education to disadvantaged chilren violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and should the ruling in Aguilar v. Felton be overruled?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"In Aguilar v. Felton, this Court held that New York City's program that sent public school teachers into parochial schools to provide remedial education to disadvantaged children pursuant to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 necessitated an excessive entanglement of church and state and violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. On remand, the District Court entered a permanent injunction reflecting that ruling.

Some 10 years later, petitioners--the parties bound by the injunction--filed motions in the same court seeking relief from the injunction's operation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5). They emphasized the significant costs of complying with Aguilar and the assertions of five Justices in Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, that Aguilar should be reconsidered, and argued that relief was proper under Rule 60(b)(5) and Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, because Aguilar cannot be squared with this Court's intervening Establishment Clause jurisprudence and is no longer good law.

The District Court denied the motion on the merits, declaring that Aguilar's demise has 'not yet occurred.' The Second Circuit agreed and affirmed."

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Stanley Geller argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents Felton et al.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Jewish Congress et al. by Norman Redlich, Marc D. Stern, Marvin E. Frankel, David J. Strom, Richard T. Foltin, J. Brent Walker, Melissa Rogers, Robert Chanin, John West, Elliot M. Mincberg, and Judith E. Schaeffer; and for Americans United for Separation of Church and State et al. by Steven K. Green, Julie A. Segal, Steven R. Shapiro, and Arthur N. Eisenberg.
Paul A. Crotty argued the cause for petitioners in both cases. With him on the briefs for petitioners in No. 96-553 were Leonard Koerner and Stephen J. McGrath. Kevin T. Baine and Emmet T. Flood filed a brief for petitioners in No. 96-552.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty by Kevin J. Hasson; for the Christian Legal Society et al. by Michael W. McConnell, Thomas C. Berg, Steven T. McFarland, Kimberlee Wood Colby, and Samuel B. Casey; for the Knights of Columbus by James W. Shannon, Jr.; for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs by Nathan Lewin and Dennis Rapps; for Senator Robert F. Bennett by Ronald D. Maines; and for Sarah Peter et al. by Michael Joseph Woodruff and Scott J. Ward.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

The Supreme Court held that:

"A federally funded program providing supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged children on a neutral basis is not invalid under the Establishment Clause when such instruction is given on the premises of sectarian schools by government employees under a program containing safeguards such as those present in New York City's Title I program. Accordingly, Aguilar...[is] no longer good law...

New York City's Title I program does not give aid recipients any incentive to modify their religious beliefs or practices in order to obtain program services... Such an incentive is not present where, as here, 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. New York City's Title I services are available to all children who meet the eligibility requirements, no matter what their religious beliefs or where they go to school...

The significant change in this Court's post-Aguilar Establishment Clause law entitles petitioners to relief under Rule 60(b)(5)."

The US Supreme Court reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit judgment.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con
  • Souter, D. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance of the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; the Supreme Court reversed in a 4-5 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.