New Hampshire Court Should Strike Down Neo-Vouchers, AU Argues

Church & State, June 2013 | Go to article overview

New Hampshire Court Should Strike Down Neo-Vouchers, AU Argues


An Americans United attorney appeared before a New Hampshire judge in April to argue against a state law that awards taxpayer money to religious schools.

Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, told Judge John Lewis of the Strafford County Superior Court in Dover that a law passed last year violates the New Hampshire Constitution. The measure gives tax credits to businesses that donate money to non-profit organizations that distribute vouchers for tuition at religious schools.

Supporters of the law, which was passed over the veto of then-Gov. John Lynch, point to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a voucher plan in Cleveland, Ohio.

But Luchenitser said the state constitution contains strict language barring the diversion of taxpayer money to religious institutions. That document reads in part, "[N]o money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools ... of any religious sect or denomination."

"The education tax-credit program will take tax funds away from the state treasury, away from the public schools, and deliver them to religious schools in violation of the text, the purpose and the case law of the New Hampshire Constitution," Luchenitser said.

Americans United and the New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union are representing eight plaintiffs in the case. The hearing lasted more than four hours.

Judge Lewis told the courtroom that money is clearly going to religious schools.

"There's no dispute that some of the money under this program is going to go to a religious school without restrictions," Lewis said. "The very first thing that's being questioned is whether or not the money that's used to fund tuition payments constitutes quote 'money raised by taxation."

Associate Attorney General Richard Head defended the law on behalf of the state. According to Seacoast Online, he argued that the money in question isn't really tax aid.

The news site reported that Lewis called Head's logic potentially "troubling" and added, "If they [businesses] had not decided to make that contribution, where would that money have gone? If the credit isn't there, the money would go to the government."

In other news about vouchers:

* The Colorado Supreme Court should strike down a Douglas County voucher program that provides public education funds to religious schools, according to Americans United.

AU, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in April asking Colorado's high court to accept the Larue v.

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