Supreme Court to hear Arizona religious school scholarship case
Supreme Court Photo:AP
Are Arizonans’ tax dollars going to fund religious indoctrination? Is that Constitutional? The US Supreme Court will decide this fall.
Thirteen years ago, the Arizona legislature created a program, the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit, to provide scholarships to private schools — a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations of up to $500 per individual ($1,000 per married couple) to private school scholarship funds that provide scholarships to at least two private K-12 schools. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the constitutionality of the law, but the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the law as written.
Now, two cases challenge not the law’s language, but its implementation. The ACLU charges that the bulk of distributors of scholarships — about 75% — are religious institutions, who require the students to attend religious schools. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled with the ACLU, saying:
We conclude that the plaintiffs’ complaint … sufficiently alleges that Arizona’s tax-credit funded scholarship program lacks religious neutrality and true private choice in making scholarships available to parents.
The Alliance Defense Fund and State of Arizona are appealing to the Supreme Court.
The docket cites two issues to be decided by the Court:
- Whether respondents have taxpayer standing when they cannot allege that the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit involves the expenditure or appropriation of state funds; and
- whether a tax credit that advances the legislature’s legitimate secular purpose of expanding educational options for families unconstitutionally endorses or advances religion simply because taxpayers choose to direct more contributions to religious organizations than nonreligious ones.
A variety of school voucher programs which resulted in tax dollars going to religious schools have withstood Constitutional challenges. The courts found that the parents under those programs were free to choose the schools their children would attend, and it was not unconstitutional for funds to be expended as the parents chose . . . as long as the parents had a “genuine choice” of schools. (Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, 2002)
In Arizona’s case, it is the scholarship-granting organizations who decide what schools children may attend if they want scholarships. While donors may decide for themselves where they donate, the parents of children are limited in their options by which organizations have funds available. Thus, the argument goes, parents are coerced into sending their children to religious schools instead of the schools of their choice, and their indoctrination is indirectly subsidized by taxpayers.
A brief filed on behalf of taxpayers summarizes the plaintiffs’ argument:
The Arizona program is neither based on financial or academic need nor neutral with respect to religion. “Instead, it awards most of its scholarships to the children of middle-class and wealthy parents on the basis of religion.
The Supreme Court has combined appeals of two existing cases — Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization vs. Winn and Garriott vs. Winn into a single case. Review the court documents here.