Discrimination in Social Services

Giving Tax Aid To Religious Schools Forces You To Support Discrimination

  Rob Boston

Over the past few decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has been giving its approval to various forms of taxpayer aid to private religious schools.

Americans United opposes these rulings because they violate the fundamental principle of church-state separation: They compel taxpayers to support religious education. Americans United believes religious activities should be funded with voluntary contributions from supporters, not tax dollars. Public money should fund public schools, which educate 90% of America’s schoolchildren.

There are plenty of other reasons why vouchers, tuition tax credits and other forms of tax aid to religious schools are problematic from a public policy perspective, and you can read about some of them here. But one of the most compelling reasons is that these schools often engage in blatant forms of discrimination, something no taxpayer should ever be made to support.

If you need a reminder of how bad this can be, consider the case of Devin Bryant, who was prepared to begin his senior year at Covenant Christian Academy in Colleyville, Texas, last month.

Devin is a straight-A student who has attended the school since kindergarten. He’s so well-liked that teachers have written notes to his mother thanking her for raising such a great kid. He has won school awards for his art and played on sports teams.

So what’s the problem? Devin is gay. Seniors at the school have a tradition of decorating their parking spots, and over the summer, Devin unveiled his design, which included the words, “Super Hot, Fun, Attractive, Fast-driving, Insane, Very Smart, Outgoing, Party Freak, Young, Gay (as in happy don’t worry lol), Pretty, Reckless, Humble, Pyromaniac, Fun, Gay (as in homosexual this time, sorry) Person Parking Only.”

Devin told Dallas Voice that the design “derived humor from how brash it was.”

School officials felt differently. They informed Devin’s mother that he was not welcome to return. Devin promised to be less vocal about his sexuality, but it made no difference. He was expelled. He enrolled in a public school where he’s taking a full slate of advanced placement classes and considering options for college.

Texas doesn’t have a voucher plan – although some legislators have pushed them over the years. If the state did have vouchers, there would likely be nothing to prevent Covenant Christian Academy from discriminating against students like Devin even as it raked in taxpayer support.

But Covenant did receive another form of public support recently. The school got a “loan” between $1 million-$2 million under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a key feature of the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress. (Under the terms of the program, the loans will be forgiven as long as a few conditions are met, so they are really grants.)

Covenant is not alone. Research by Americans United found that private religious and secular schools received funding totaling between $2.67 billion and $6.47 billion under PPP.

How many of these schools discriminate against kids like Devin Bryant? It’s hard to say for sure, but AU’s report lists plenty of examples of private schools that got money under PPP even as they state up front that they will deny admission to or expel students who are LGBTQ, whose parents are of the same sex, who are the “wrong” religion or who have disabilities.

Discriminatory policies like these are bad enough. Compelling taxpayers to buttress them by awarding these schools a windfall in taxpayer aid is a disgrace. That’s why Americans United works to oppose private school voucher programs and other forms of public aid to private, mostly religious schools. You can help by urging your Senators to reject the latest attempt to create a federally funded voucher program.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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