An Appealing School Choice; Supreme Court Should Affirm Tax Credits for Religious Schools

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 20, 2010 | Go to article overview
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An Appealing School Choice; Supreme Court Should Affirm Tax Credits for Religious Schools


Byline: Eric Robinson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Most people know when the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling, it is considered the final say for that case. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has tried to overstep the Supreme Court in no less than four cases dealing with parental choice in education.

In direct conflict with Supreme Court precedent and to the detriment of more than 28,000 Arizona schoolchildren, the Ninth Circuit recently declared that Arizona's educational tax credit program is unconstitutional. On May 20, the Supreme Court can correct the Ninth Circuit, and there are compelling reasons for it to do so.

Phoenix resident Glenn Dennard is an inner-city pastor and father. He and his wife, Rhonda, used to make a long drive each day to save their oldest daughter from the failing school district they lived in. Yet, they were still not satisfied. Through the Arizona tax credit program, they secured scholarships that ensured access to a quality, individualized education for each of their five children. If the Supreme Court does not intervene in this case, however, the Dennard family may be forced to move in order to find a better education for their children.

The Establishment Clause requires government to stay neutral with regard to religion, meaning it cannot pass laws that prefer one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion, or, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) advocates, nonreligion over religion. The ACLU is challenging Arizona's tax credit because it allows taxpayers to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting charities, including religiously affiliated organizations. These charities, known as School Tuition Organizations (STOs), give scholarships to families to send their children to the private school of their choice.

But the tax credit is entirely religiously neutral; it neither favors nor discriminates against people who select religious school options. Private actors - not government bureaucrats - decide which charities receive donations to fund the private school scholarships. As Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain said in a powerful dissent to the Ninth Circuit's decision, the government is at least four steps removed from these charities. A private citizen must first create an STO, and then they must decide whether to provide scholarships to religious schools.

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