Americorps Can’t Subsidize Indoctrination, Court Rules

Teachers and instructional aides may not be placed in religious schools to teach religion and engage in sectarian activities with students as part of a federally funded community service program, a federal court has held.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of Washington, D.C., ruled July 2 that teachers compensated through the AmeriCorps Education Awards Program may not lead religious activities at parochial schools.

AmeriCorps is a national program that sends participants into communities to serve in areas such as education, public safety, health and environment. After serving for 10-12 months, participants receive a $4,725 education award, which can be used for college expenses or to pay off student loans.

Kessler noted that it is undisputed that the AmeriCorps program “offers program participants a national service education award…to work in religious schools where they teach religion to their students throughout the school day, lead their students in prayer multiple times a day, and attend Mass with their students.”

The American Jewish Congress filed suit against the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps’ education division, in 2002, arguing that the program was being used to advance religion in violation of the First Amendment.

In her American Jewish Congress v. Corporation for National and Community Service ruling, Kessler agreed, holding that the program “results in impermissible government indoctrination in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”