Sen. Gardner to high court: Let taxpayers fund religious schools
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has weighed in on whether the U.S. Supreme Court should take up the Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program case. His answer is simple: Yes, and school districts should pay for students’ religious education. Photo: National Renewable Energy Lab, Creative Commons, Flickr.
Religious schools should get public funding, wrote U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether to rule on Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program.
The voucher system, which Gardner supports, was set up in March, 2011, with a plan to have the program ready for the 2011-12 school year. But it never got that far. In August, 2011, a Denver District Court judge put the program on ice at the request of Taxpayers for Public Education. The school district appealed, and the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision in February, 2013.
The state Supreme Court rejected the appeals court decision last June, and the school district appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in October.
In the 4-3 state Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote that the state constitution bars public school districts from paying for students to attend religious schools, which the Choice Scholarship Program would have allowed.
The section of the constitution referred to by Rice is known as the “Blaine amendment,” which Gardner argues is unconstitutional and why the court needs to review the lawsuit.
The Blaine amendment prohibits the use of taxpayer money to fund religious or otherwise sectarian schools. At least three dozen states have Blaine amendments in their constitutions, passed in the 19th century as a prohibition against funding Catholic schools.
In his brief, Gardner also said the Court should look at whether the Constitution protects parents’ rights to choose religious schools for their children when those schools are part of a funding system that is religiously neutral.
The Douglas County School District has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover legal costs to defend their voucher program, including $500,000 from the Daniels Fund.
The district hired one of the nation’s top legal minds on religious liberty, Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia Law School, to handle the case at the Supreme Court level.
Laycock has written briefs in support of other religious cases, most recently, in support of Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit to allow the company to ignore the Affordable Care Act mandate that an employer’s insurance should not have to cover contraception if it conflicts with the employer’s religious beliefs.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet said whether it will take up the Douglas County case.
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