AU Urges House Panel To Reject Federal Funding Of Religious Schools

Voucher Subsidies For D.C. Private Schools Undermine Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, Says Watchdog Group

A private school voucher plan aimed at the District of Columbia funnels tax money to religious schools, violates civil rights and does nothing to improve students’ academic achievement, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a House of Representatives panel.

Americans United submitted written testimony today before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census, and the National Archives. The subcommittee is considering H.R. 471, a bill sponsored by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that would revive a controversial voucher plan in Washington, D.C.

“The D.C. voucher plan does not work, it violates civil rights and it forces taxpayers to subsidize religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The rule is three strikes and you’re out.”

Lynn noted that under the plan, participating religious schools would be permitted to use tax funds to teach dogma. At the same time, they could fire or refuse to hire staff based on their religious beliefs or lifestyle choices.

Lynn pointed out that objective studies of the D.C. voucher plan have concluded that it does not boost student performance. Four studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that vouchers did not improve academic achievement. The final report confirmed that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading.

The studies also found that students from “schools in need of improvement,” which are the students it was supposed to help the most, showed no improvement in reading or math even after attending voucher schools.

Despite this poor track record, some members of Congress continue to push the plan. A nearly identical bill is pending in the Senate, where it is being promoted by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)

 Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray opposes the voucher bill, and in recent weeks other D.C. politicians have spoken out against it, noting that the proposal undermines D.C. laws protecting civil rights and uses tax money to further religion.

In its testimony to the House panel, AU wrote, “Most religious primary and secondary schools are part of the ministry of the sponsoring church. Because these schools either cannot or do not wish to separate the religious components of the education they offer from their academic programs, it is impossible to prevent a publicly funded voucher from paying for these institutions’ religious activities and education. This conflicts with one of the most dearly held principles of religious liberty – the government should not compel any citizen to furnish funds in support of a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even a religion with which he or she does agree.”

Lynn called on Congress to focus on helping D.C.’s public schools.

“Instead of pushing a failed voucher plan, Congress would do better to work toward improving public education for all of D.C.’s youngsters,” Lynn remarked.

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.