Agostini v. Felton

Following is the case brief for Agostini v. Felton, Supreme Court of the United States, (1997)

Case summary for Agostini v. Felton:

  • The school board of New York and parents of students in educationally deprived parochial schools, brought suit to challenge a 12 year old injunction against the placement of public school teachers in religious schools.
  • The previous decision stated that placing public school teachers in parochial schools for purposes of furthering education is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
  • This time around, the Supreme Court held that not every state sponsored action is an automatic violation of the Establishment Clause because state action does not always equate to advocating the religion of the parochial school.

Agostini v. Felton Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

A group of taxpayers, including Felton, filed suit requesting an injunction to bar New York’s school board from allocating public money to place teachers in parochial schools. The taxpayers claimed that Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 violated the Establishment Clause of the United States’ Constitution. In federal district court, the taxpayers’ injunction was denied. As a result, the taxpayer’s appealed and the court of appeals reversed the district court’s ruling.

The United States Supreme Court (in Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U.S. 402, 413), then affirmed the court of appeals judgment, specifically finding that the school board’s actions violated the Establishment Clause because it was an “entanglement” between church and state. In response, the district court granted a permanent injunction preventing public school teachers from being placed into parochial schools for educational purposes.

Several years later, parents of parochial school students, in addition to the school board, filed several motions with the district court requesting for the injunction to be lifted.

Procedural History:

In response, the district school did not grant the request and the school board appealed to the court of appeals, who affirmed the district court’s opinion.  The issue was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, who granted certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

When a state educational program places public school employees in parochial school for purposes of educational aid, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is not violated.

Issue and Holding:

Is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment violated when a state places public school teachers in parochial schools to help improve education? No.


The Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision.


The Court stated it should not presumptively be held that all entanglements between church and state are either positive or negative in their influence on religion. In overruling Aguilar, the Court held that there was no evidence to support the presumption that placement of public school employees into religious schools will automatically result in the indoctrination of state-sponsored religion.

Here, the New York program did not produce an incentive for parochial schools to establish a religion for the purpose of attracting public teachers. The Court set out a new applicable standard where state policies creating an excessive conflict between church and state will violate the Establishment Clause.              


Agostini v. Felton established that not every state sponsored action is an absolute violation of the Establishment Clause because state action does not automatically equate to advocating the religion of the parochial school.

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