June 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A group of private schools represented by a libertarian legal group has filed a lawsuit in South Carolina in an attempt to nullify a provision in the state constitution that bars taxpayer aid to religious entities.

The provision, found in Article XI of the South Carolina Constitution, states, “No money shall be paid from public funds[,] nor shall the credit of the State or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

Earlier this year, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) attempted to award taxpayer funds to private schools under a pandemic relief program. The South Carolina Supreme Court blocked the effort.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, include the Bishop of Charleston and South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. They are being represented by Liberty Justice Center in Chicago.

No-aid amendments are found in the majority of state constitutions. While opponents often argue that they are evidence of 19th century anti-Catholicism, many of the provisions are much older and date to the colonial period. They reflect a common concern at the time that no one should be taxed to pay for someone else’s religion.

An attorney for Liberty Justice Center announced the lawsuit at a Catholic school in Greenville.

Chuck Saylors, a member of the Greenville County School Board and a former president of the PTA, criticized the lawsuit and pointed out that it would open the door to school vouchers.

Saylors told the Charleston Post and Courier, “If I have a child that has a learning disability, if I have a child that cannot speak English, if I have a child that is so medically fragile that they cannot attend a traditional classroom – if I come to Greenville County Schools tomorrow and say, ‘I want my child enrolled in school’, we are required by law to accept those children,” Saylors said. “And we do, with love and attention, to make sure that we do what we can to help them. A private school can say, ‘I’m sorry, I cannot take that child because we do not have the capability to do that.’”