Littwin: DougCo’s dodgy voucher plan boosts religious recruitment – not public education

The Douglas County School Board might be unhappy with the state Supreme Court ruling knocking down its dodgy voucher plan.

Religious schools throughout Douglas County might be unhappy with the state Supreme Court ruling knocking down the dodgy DougCo voucher plan.

But the national voucher-movement people who are pushing the lawsuit must be thrilled with the ruling against them. The way for them to win is by losing, at least in this round. Winning in Colorado would be small stakes. Winning at the U.S. Supreme Court level, which is where this case may be headed, could be transformational.

Yes, the state constitution seems to plainly say that this voucher plan would be, well, un-state-constitutional. But the language plainly cited – prohibiting public funding for “any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school … controlled by any church or sectarian denomination” — derives from a so-called Blaine Amendment, a piece of 19th-century anti-Catholic bigotry by which states found a way not to fund Catholic schools.

And yet the court decided, with a notable dissent from Justice Allison Eid, that the origin of the amendment meant little in this case, that the separation of church and state, as reconfirmed in this amendment, was what mattered. And so the court found: “This stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools. Yet aiding religious schools is exactly what the (Choice Scholarship Program) does.”

The 19th-century bigotry is both despicable and disturbing, but, in a 21st-century reading, the language in the amendment seems entirely neutral. What to do? Should one base an important ruling on a poisoned amendment? Or is it fair to say that if the amendment were being read today as anti-Catholic, it would have been easily, and long ago, overturned?

We know how the state Supreme Court read it, if in a split decision. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. Supreme Court would see it that way, if, in fact, the school board appeals and the Court agrees to hear the case. The Supreme Court has already ruled that some vouchers that are neutral on religion and not paid directly to religious schools can be used in any way that parents see fit. The question, then, would be whether the dodgy Douglas County-style vouchers qualify?

Let’s be honest. If the Blaine Amendment was born of anti-Catholic bigotry, the Douglas County vouchers were based, in large part, on finding a way to allow public funds to be used for religious school tuition.

Does anyone really think that this voucher plan is meant to improve public schools? Does anyone really think that, as public policy, this plan is meant to provide “choice” so that children can attend “better” schools?

Or is it all just a dodge?

In Douglas County, the choice for students seems to be basically a choice among religious schools. When the vouchers were put in place in 2011, 93 percent of eligible students chose religious schools. According to the numbers from the District Court trial, which found that the vouchers were unconstitutional (an appeals court ruled otherwise), 119 of 120 high school students chose a religious school.

And to be clear what we’re talking about, the state Supreme Court opinion noted that the voucher program plainly states that it permits eligible schools to make their admissions based on … religious beliefs.

Can we get any clearer?

Well, yes. Here’s how the system was to have worked, and see if my use of dodgy is unfair. To be eligible to receive the voucher, the student must enroll in the Choice Scholarship Charter School, which, it turns out, is not a school at all. It has no teachers. It has no building. It has no books. It has no readin’ or writin’ or ‘rithmetic. It has, let’s say it together, no students.

It has nothing but a name and a claim that the student is enrolled in the district so that the state will have to fork over money for the student. The state’s money goes to the parents, who get to choose which school to send their kids to attend. If the student were to enroll directly in a religious school, Douglas County couldn’t pay for it. But because the student enrolls in a phony-baloney not-really-charter charter school, the plan would mean for your tax dollars to be used to pay for someone to go to a religious school that wouldn’t have to admit your children if they were of a different religion.

In its editorial lamenting the state Supreme Court decision, the Denver Post wrote that the DougCo vouchers were “a modest, limited effort that expanded choice without undermining public schools.”

But Chief Justice Nancy Rice, in her opinion, didn’t agree. She said the Choice Scholarship Program was basically a “recruitment program” in which DougCo teamed with mostly religious partner schools to offer students and their parents “inducements” in the form of scholarships – which, it seems, are not necessarily limited to scholarly endeavors.

If the Colorado Supreme Court is right, the program doesn’t seem modest or limited. But the question now isn’t only whether the state court is right — it seems to me it must be — but whether it will get the last word.

Photo credit: Waiting for the World, Creative Commons, Flickr.


  1. If it is true that the $1.2 million Dougco spent on this legal fight was all from donations, then who were the donators? Follow the money.

  2. How much money will Douglas County Schools have to pay back to the state that was paid to the district for students enrolled in Choice Scholarship Charter School? How long will DougCo have to pay the money back? Also, how long will the Choice Scholarship Charter School families who received the money have to pay the money back to DougCo?

  3. Now that we’ve all endured Mr. Littwin’s tortured and amateurish interpretation of the state Supreme Court decision against the Douglas County School Board let’s see how professional journalists view it. This opinion from the prestigious Wall Street Journal editorial board entitled “Religious Bigotry in Colorado”:

    “The Colorado Supreme Court held 4-3 that because 16 of these schools are “religious in character,” the program violates a section of the state constitution that states no taxpayer funds can be used to “support or sustain” any institution controlled by a “sectarian denomination.” Amid the nativist wave of the 1870s and 1880s, 39 states came to adopt these so-called Blaine Amendments that were meant to target immigrants, religious minorities and Catholic parochial schools.”

    “According to the court’s liberal justices, the Blaine Amendment means that “no state funding whatsoever” can be provided to parents who might use them at a religious school. This will come as news to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a landmark 2002 decision held that school vouchers like those in Douglas County that indirectly benefit religious institutions do not amount to the state establishment of religion.”

    “As Colorado Justice Allison Eid notes in a dissent, the decision is so “breathtakingly broad” that it would likely invalidate any number of state programs—roads, bridges and sidewalks—because they too help “support and sustain” religious organizations. She adds that the majority “simply stuck its head in the sand and hopes that because it cannot see the allegations of anti-Catholic bias, no one else will.”

    Mr. Littwin seems to fit perfectly those that Justice Allison Eid described as having “their heads in the sand.” In fact, that’s Mr. Littwin’s default position.

    And nowhere does he mention how his in-house lawyer viewed the decision. Hmm, I wonder what that could mean?

    “The sources of Judaism’s traditional position on homosexuality and gay issues are well known. Two verses in Leviticus(18:23 and 20:13) express unequivocal condemnation of male homosexual sex (although it is not clear whether what is referred to is intercourse or all sexual acts between men). According to Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

    “First, let’s consult the “Constitution” of the Jews, the Torah. Even a cursory reading of the relevant sections shows that the Torah is unequivocally opposed to the homosexual act, which it twice labels an abomination: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. It’s worth noting that this prohibition is grouped with several other unacceptable sexual practices, including bestiality. Scholars have reviewed various attempts to justify homosexual behavior through the “reinterpretation” of these Torah passages, and have found them to be unconvincing.”

    “So significant is the ban on homosexual activity that it is part of the afternoon Torah reading for Yom Kippur.”

    “Moreover, Judaism has taken this admonition to heart over the centuries. “Even in antiquity, when countless cultures and religions incorporated homosexuality in some form, Judaism absolutely rejected homosexual practices,” writes New York attorney Eytan Kobre in a recent edition of the Forward.”

    “The Utah man who claimed in April he was robbed twice by bigots who force-fed him bleach and carved “Die Fag” into his arms said he made everything up. Rick Jones, who co-owns the family’s Delta, Utah pizzeria told authorities he was bluffing when he said robbers attacked him before tossing a Molotov cocktail into his bedroom. The Millard County Sheriffs Department said they may now press charges against the 21-year-old man for the fake report after inconsistencies were discovered. Jones’s attorney Brett Tollman said his client has been seeking medical treatment and acknowledged that the attack tale spiraled out of control once it received national attention.” Daily Beast
    “I marched with many people back in those days and I have reached out to some of my friends who marched with me, and all of them are shocked,” Rev. William Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) told Breitbart News. “They never thought they would see this day that gay rights would be equated with civil rights. Not one agreed with this comparison.
    President Obama is a disgrace to the black community,” Owens said. “He is rewriting history. We didn’t suffer and die for gay marriage.
    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner
    Folds of Honor
    Veterans Day – November 11, 2015

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