Dec 02, 2008

The Arizona Supreme Court should strike down two voucher programs that direct tax dollars into religious and other private schools, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Dec. 1, Americans United urged the justices to hold that the voucher plans violate explicit provisions of the state constitution that bar public funding of private education. For example, Article IX, Section 10 states that “no tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money in aid of any…private or sectarian school.”

Observed the AU brief, “No-aid provisions likes this one exist in many state constitutions as a supplement to basic church-state protections, and voucher schemes like the two at issue here contradict their plain meaning…. In addition to the obvious financial benefit they provide to sectarian private schools (in the form of publicly funded tuition payments), the voucher provisions aid the religious missions of these schools and of the religious groups that operate them.”

Americans United noted that opposition to taxation in support of religion has a long constitutional history.

“Thomas Jefferson emphatically wrote” the brief asserted, “that one of the principal cornerstones of our republic is a ‘wall of separation between Church and State’…. The tenet of church-state separation with the longest and deepest historical pedigree is the prohibition on the expenditure of taxes to support religion in general or religious training in particular.”

Americans United also urged the justices to be wary of claims that voucher programs benefit students. The brief cited an array of studies indicating that voucher plans do not improve student academic performance.

The Arizona Court of Appeals has already ruled in the Cain v. Horne case that the programs violate the state constitution.

A hearing at the state’s high court is scheduled for Dec. 9.

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.