Three civil liberties organizations filed suit today in Nevada District Court to challenge a school voucher program signed into law in June by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued on behalf of a group of parents, clergy and other taxpayers who oppose the program’s effort to divert taxpayer money to private, religious schools.
“Nevada’s Constitution makes clear that the state may not fund religious instruction or religious discrimination,” said Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United. “The voucher program flouts this constitutional prohibition. Nevada’s parents, students and taxpayers deserve better.”
Added Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, “Parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, but they are not entitled to do so at taxpayers’ expense. The voucher program violates the Nevada Constitution’s robust protections against the use of public funds for religious education.”
Under the program, parents of students enrolled in public school for at least 100 days may transfer their children to participating private schools, including religious schools, and are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in public education funds to pay for tuition, textbooks and other associated costs. The funds will be disbursed through so-called “Education Savings Accounts,” and there are no restrictions on how participating schools can use the money.
The lawsuit argues that the funding scheme violates Article XI Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any sectarian purpose. The lawsuit also claims that the program runs afoul of Article XI, Section 2, which requires the legislature to “provide for a uniform system of common schools.”
“The voucher program will use taxpayer dollars for religious education and indoctrination at a number of religious schools, many of which discriminate in admissions and employment,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The program would be a huge loss for religious liberty if implemented.”
Among the Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU of Nevada, ACLU and Americans United is Ruby Duncan, a mother, grandmother and longtime civil rights activist and the namesake for the Ruby Duncan Elementary School in Las Vegas. Rabbi Mel Hecht, Howard Watts III, Leora Olivas and Adam Berger are also plaintiffs in this suit. All object to the use of their taxes to fund private religious schools.
The complaint asks the court to declare the voucher program unlawful and enjoin the Nevada Treasurer and Department of Education from further implementation.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.