Monday, March 04, 2013

A Reasonable Ruling

One problem I have with aggressive atheism and secularism is the incorrect belief that the First Amendment requires a total separation of church and state, when all evidence is to the contrary.  The Founders were clear that while government cannot get involved in the affairs of churches--it cannot "establish" a church or show favoritism to any particular church--the contrary is not so.  Religious people are not excluded from government, nor are they required to forget their religion's teachings in their government role.

Similarly, the fact that some government money finds its way to religious institutions is not, a priori, a violation of the Establishment Clause, and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled correctly in this case:
In a tremendous victory for families in Douglas County, Colo., the Colorado Court of Appeals this morning upheld the Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program.  Reversing an August 2011 trial court decision that had struck down the program, the Court held that the program “does not violate any of the constitutional provisions on which” it was challenged...

The Choice Scholarship Program is a local school choice program adopted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 15, 2011, to “provide greater educational choice for students and parents to meet individualized student needs.”  The program operates in a simple and straightforward manner, providing 500 scholarships that parents can use to send their children to any private school that participates in the program and that has accepted the child.

On June 21, 2011, however, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and several Colorado organizations and taxpayers sued the school board, school district, Colorado Department of Education, and Colorado Board of Education in Denver District Court to stop the program.  Despite clear case law rejecting their claims, they alleged that because some parents would choose religious schools for their children’s education, the program violates the state constitution’s prohibition on aid to religious schools.  They also alleged various violations of state constitutional and statutory provisions concerning public education...

This morning, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and upheld the scholarship program. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals explained that the scholarship program “is intended to benefit students and their parents, and any benefit to the participating schools is incidental”  Moreover, the Court stressed that the program “is neutral toward religion, and funds make their way to private schools with religious affiliation by means of personal choices of students’ parents.”
I could side against this program if the relevant issues were the quality of education received at taxpayer expense, but that wasn't the case here.  The ruling is reasonable.


C T said...

I'm a religious person who lives in Colorado, so I have nothing against parents sending their children to religious schools. But based on the plain language of the Colorado Constitution, this voucher program is not allowed:

Section 7, which is entitled “Aid to private schools, churches, sectarian purpose, forbidden,” states:
Neither the general assembly, nor any . . . school district . . . , shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state . . . to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.

I think it will be struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Darren said...

The money hasn't been appropriated for religious schools. It's been appropriated to give to parents, who spend it there. To overturn this, one would have to wonder if the Colorado Supreme Court would rule that state employees couldn't use their wages to give an offering at church on Sunday.

C T said...

But there is a distinction you're overlooking here: the parents aren't actually given the money. No one is saying the parents can spend it on whatever they want. They must pass the money on to a qualifying school. True, they choose which school, but when a state employee gets his wages, he is free to spend it on whatever he wants (unless he's a teacher having to pay dues to a teachers union ;) ). Essentially, Douglas County wants parents to be able to direct tax money toward any private school, including religious ones. I think the Colo. Supreme Ct. will hold that that violates the Colorado Constitution. Voucher advocates should probably look at trying to amend the CO constitution. It's certainly had a lot of amendments already!

maxutils said...

I am an atheistically leaning agnostic, and a teacher ... so I have two reasons to disagree with this ruling ....
and I don't. I think a voucher program should cover any school which meets minimum requirements for education deemed necessary by the state, and that the voucher should be equivalent to the amount the state would have spent on a public education for the student. You want to go to a school with a religious bent? I think that foolish, but I support your right to do it.

mmazenko said...

However, this isn't a case based on a reading of "separation of church and state" from the US Constitution. It is a matter of the state constitution which specifically, and in no uncertain terms, prohibits using state funds to support religious institutions. The voucher program per se may not violate that provision, but because more than 60% of the schools applying to receive vouchers are religious, there seems to be grounds to prohibit that. Thus, the judge should have rescinded the ban for all non-religious schools, but he can't legally rule in favor of shifting state education funds to religious schools because the state constitution says no. Well, obviously, he can and did - but that should be reversed because he is wrong on simple letter of the law.

allen (in Michigan) said...

So Colorado has a Blaine Amendment? How cunningly 19th century.

Well, there's nothing unusual about lefties cozying up to the results of hatred and bigotry if it suits them. Much of state level gun law that infringes the Second Amendment was passed to impede and deny black Americans the lawful exercise of the right enumerated by the Second Amendment and so called "Blaine Amendments" were passed on a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry.

The question of whether Blaine Amendments would withstand a constitutional challenge at the federal level isn't, of course, quite as clear as the courageous defenders of the results of anti-Catholic hatred would like to portray. The GI Bill and Pell grants, and the results of challenges to both, make it clear that there's no constitutional prohibition at the federal level about government money flowing to religious institutions if the recipients of that government money are under no compulsion to select a religious institution.

Of course now that the Ku Klux Klan's a shadow of its former self it's up to the public education lobby and its fellow travelers to try to hold the line and like the Klan public support is draining away as it becomes more difficult to ignore the increasingly self-serving nature of the public education system.

As support grows for alternatives to the district system I suspect Blaine amendments will come in for a great deal of unwelcome scrutiny since their purpose is obstructionist. It'll be interesting to see how law designed to impede choice will fare in a century which arrived practically born on a wave of "right to choose" clich├ęs.

momof4 said...

I grew up in VT, when many small towns had no HS but provided a tuition stipend to each child to attend the HS of their choice; public, private or religious. The last option was removed, at least a decade ago, on "separation of church and state" grounds; unsurprising in the now-Socialist Republic of VT. The state in which I was raised no longer exists.

BTW:I currently live in a northern plains city that once had a thriving KKK, to keep the Catholics in their place. At that time, there were essentially no non-whites in town; Lutherans of Scandinavian, German or Dutch extraction were the majority. Despite popular propaganda, blacks were not the only target of the KKK.

Anonymous said...

FYI, it appears that Colorado is okay giving state money to students attending private religious *colleges*.

Like Colorado Christian University:

For what it is worth, the Douglas "Choice Scholarship Program" seems to have a similar structure. Quoting from the ruling (written by the judges):

"The District would pay parents of participating students 'scholarships' covering some of the cost of tuition at those schools, and the parents would then remit the scholarship money to the schools."

So the money in *BOTH* cases flows from the state to the citizens to the school.

If the college program is okay (and it has been up to now), I don't see why the same structure would be "not okay" for K-12.

But I am not a lawyer.

-Mark Roulo