Court Refuses Challenge to AmeriCorps; Allows Funds to Religious Schools

Article excerpt


The Supreme Court yesterday declined to take a case brought by a national Jewish organization challenging the government's use of federal money to place teachers in religious schools through the AmeriCorps grant program.

Without comment, the justices let stand a ruling last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that allowed the policy as long as federal grant money does not go directly to the teaching of religious classes.

The American Jewish Congress, the organization that brought the challenge, reacted to the high court's move with disappointment.

"I think it's a mark of how the constant chipping away at the wall of separation between church and state leads to results that are at seeming odds with earlier Supreme Court decisions," said Mark Stern, the organization's general counsel.

The Corporation for National & Community Service, the federal grant-making agency that oversees AmeriCorps, requires participating teachers to fulfill a service requirement of 1,700 hours of nonreligious instruction to receive federal money to teach at the neediest of religious schools.

The program allows the teachers to cover religious subjects and lead students in prayer.

At the initial trial, a judge found that the policy violated the First Amendment's establishment clause, which upholds the separation between church and state.

The federal appeals court for the District reversed the ruling, finding that the program "creates no incentives for participants to teach religion" and clearly outlines that participating teachers are "prohibited from wearing the AmeriCorps logo" while engaging in religious activities. …