Feb 02, 2015
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its allies have asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down a program that sends millions of dollars in state funds to private and religious institutions.In friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the cases of Richardson v. North Carolina and Hart v. North Carolina, Americans United argues that it is unconstitutional for taxpayers to be forced to fund religious education through vouchers, which would be inevitable under North Carolina’s scheme. The briefs also note that private schools are free from the academic standards placed on public schools, meaning they would receive public money without any accountability.“Voucher schemes like North Carolina’s are essentially a taxpayer handout for religious schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Study after study shows that vouchers don’t improve student achievement, so this program is really just a payday for sectarian interests.”In 2013 North Carolina created the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” which offers students up to $4,200 per year to attend a private school. A total of $10 million is available for the program. For the 2014-2015 school year, voucher applicants planned to attend 446 different private schools. Of those, 322 were religious.But the voucher program has been challenged by a coalition of civil liberties groups, parents, teachers and clergy. A trial judge ruled that the program is unconstitutional and the case is now being heard by the North Carolina Supreme Court.In its briefs, Americans United asserts that many students who want to participate in the voucher program have little choice but to attend a religious school.“Students who want to use vouchers for a non-religious education often have few if any options,” the brief asserts. “In thirty-two of North Carolina’s 100 counties, the only private schools are religious schools. In three more counties, the only independent, non-religious private school is a treatment facility.”Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper, who worked on the briefs, said: “The voucher program is sending taxpayer money to private religious schools to provide religious instructions to students selected on the basis of religion. That violates the North Carolina Constitution, which reserves taxpayer funds for public purposes.”In addition to Lipper, the briefs were prepared by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Madison Fellow Zachary Dietert, along with Christopher Brook of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation.