Mar 15, 2013

Louisiana’s school voucher law should be struck down because it subsidizes religion with public funds and lacks accountability standards, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told the state supreme court.

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Louisiana. The lawsuit challenges a state law that takes money from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program to subsidize tuition at private schools, nearly all of which are sectarian in character.

“Louisiana legislators are siphoning money from tax-starved public schools to feed private schools that promote dogma and aren’t accountable to the taxpayers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s a travesty, and the court should put an end to it.”

Last year, a state district court concluded that the program violated a provision of the Louisiana Constitution that directs funding from the Minimum Foundation Program only to public schools. Although church-state issues were not raised directly in the case, Americans United believed it is important to point out that the program entangles church and state.

“The diversion of existing public school resources to voucher schools will result in taxpayer support for religious instruction at religious schools, with little to no oversight by the State, let alone the public,” asserts the brief. “First, many taxpayer-funded voucher schools teach a curriculum that is almost entirely religious, with religion dominating not only the study of theology, but also instruction on subjects such as biology, history, economics, and math.”

The brief cites specific examples, noting that some religious schools taking part in the program use textbooks that rebuke evolution and teach that humans coexisted with dinosaurs, that dinosaurs may still be living today and even that Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster exists.

Other texts being used assert that environmentalists seek to destroy the economy, that God used the mistreatment of Native Americans to convert them to Christianity and that many people in Africa are illiterate because they are not Christians.

The brief also argues that the voucher program lacks accountability standards, does not serve special-needs students and is unlikely to improve student educational outcomes. It also asserts that the program lacks true choice because most of the schools taking part are religious schools with religious curricula, and as a result they effectively exclude religious minorities.

Finally, the brief assails the notion that parents have a right to raid the public treasury to send their children to private schools.

Reads the brief, “It is well-established that there is no constitutional right to attend private, religious schools at taxpayer expense; the U.S. Supreme Court has ‘affirmed the right of private schools to exist and to operate; it [has] said nothing of any supposed right of private or parochial schools to share with public schools in state largesse, on an equal basis or otherwise.’”

“The voucher program harms religious liberty by using millions of taxpayer dollars to support religious education at religious schools” said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper, who helped author the brief. “And in the process, the voucher program will decimate public schools – which much stay religiously neutral, open, and accountable to all.”

The brief was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation.