This fall, private religious schools for the first time in a dozen yearswill have public-school teachers inside their classrooms.
In Agostini v. Felton, the U.S. Supreme Courton June 23, by a 5-to-4 margin, reversed its own 1985 ruling that barredfederally financed public-school teachers from teaching remedial educationinside private religious schools.
"The decision creates a major crack in the wall of separation between churchand state," says Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United forSeparation of Church and State, which backed the Court's original decisionin a joint brief with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
The high court's 1985 ruling, Aguilar v. Felton,concluded that allowing public employees to work within religious schoolswould advance religion, violating the Establishment Clause of the FirstAmendment. In Agostini, however, the Court concluded that government programsdo not impermissibly advance religion where they create no financial incentivesto religious activity.
VOUCHER DEBATE: Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice,which filed a brief in favor of Agostini, believes the rulingprovides ammunition for groups that advocate school choice through the useof vouchers.
"Agostini was not a school-choice or a voucher case," Mellorsays, "but the cases that the Court used to justify overturningAguilar were the very cases that school-choice advocates haveused as their strongest precedent to support vouchers." Mellor is providingcounsel for voucher cases in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Vermont and hopes one makesit to the Supreme Court.
Americans United legal director Steven K. Green, the counsel for the defendantin Agostini v. Felton, conceded that the decisionwill "embolden those people ...1