A federal appeals court last week upheld the use of AmeriCorps volunteers in religious schools in a ruling that cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in favor of Ohio’s school voucher program in Cleveland.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously rejected claims by the American Jewish Congress that the AmeriCorps Education Awards Program crossed the constitutional line into a government establishment of religion.The March 8 ruling reversed a summary judgment by a federal district judge against the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs the federal program, and the University of Notre Dame, which trains AmeriCorps participants to teach in needy Roman Catholic schools.
Participants get $4,725 for educational expenses for completing 1,700 hours in an AmeriCorps- approved school. But they are not to count time teaching religion classes toward those hours.
Noting that “only 328 of the 1,608 schools employing AmeriCorps participants as teachers in 2001 were religious schools,” the appeals panel said participants who teach religion in addition to secular subjects do so only because they were making the same kind of independent choice that Cleveland parents made when they selected religious schools in the voucher program that the Supreme Court upheld in its ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week