Establishment Clause Cases About Religion and Education

In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, the Court held the school district would not violate the Establishment Clause by providing a sign-language interpreter for a deaf student attending a religious school. See Zobrest, 509 U.S. at 13-14. The Court distinguished this case from Meek v. Pittenger and School District of Grand Rapids v. Ball on two grounds: (1) the provision of an interpreter was not the type of aid the religious school would ordinarily provide, so the aid in this case was not directly subsidizing the religious education; (2) "the task of a sign-language interpreter seems to us quite different from that of a teacher or guidance counselor" because an ethical interpreter would transmit the lesson as presented without adding to or subtracting from any religious content. See Zobrest, 509 U.S. at 12-13. However, when the Court examined this holding in Agostini, it stated, "The signer in Zobrest had the same opportunity to inculcate religion in the performance of her duties as do Title I employees." Agostini, 117 S. Ct. at 2011. The Court concluded it had rejected ground 3 in another case. See 117 S. Ct. at 2011 (citing Witters v. Washington Dep't of Servs. for the Blind, 474 U.S. 481, 106 S. Ct. 748, 88 L. Ed. 2d 846 (1986)). In Witters, the Court held the state Commission for the Blind would not violate the Establishment Clause by providing vocational rehabilitation assistance to a student at a religious college seeking to become a pastor, missionary, or youth director. See Witters, 474 U.S. at 483. The Court held the state program was not a direct subsidy to a religious institution because: (1) the decision of where the money would go was the student's choice, not the state's; (2) the state program was religiously neutral on its face; (3) nothing in the record indicates that a significant portion of the aid requested by the student goes towards religious education. See id. at 488. Having rejected ground 1, the Court concluded that pervasive monitoring of the teachers' lessons for religious content is no longer necessary. See 117 S. Ct. at 2016. However, the Court did not hold in Agostini that pervasive monitoring, if required, would not constitute excessive entanglement, and it did not address ground 5 concerning monitoring a religious institution's records. Agostini stated the current view that government aid to religious institutions does not violate the Establishment Clause "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." 117 S. Ct. at 2014.