WASHINGTON (RNS) — The U.S. Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of an Arizona program that provides state tax breaks for donations to private school scholarship programs.
As part of the 13-year-old tax-tuition program, taxpayers receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in state income taxes for their donations to not-for-profit school-tuition organizations.
In 2009, 91.5 percent of the $52 million collected in Arizona went to religious schools, according to The Arizona Republic. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and others, argue the program violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government establishment of religion.
“Arizona’s convoluted scheme is a backdoor way of subsidizing religious education,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
The Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) will defend Arizona’s tax-tuition program. ADF attorneys said the program “is constitutional because it involves individual, private choices and funding, not government action or money.”
While the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared last year that the Arizona program violated the separation of church and state, the Supreme Court has upheld cases that give parents public funding for private institutions.
In a 2002 case, the Supreme Court upheld a Cleveland case that allowed public school vouchers to be used for parochial schools. Other states with tax-tuition programs include Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Pennsylvania, according to The Associated Press.
Two cases, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, and Garriott v. Winn, are being consolidated into one appeal for review by the Supreme Court this fall.
— Ankita Rao
(c) 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Posted June 1, 2010