Recently Colorado’s Douglas County instituted a small voucher programredirecting tax money to parents and then, in some cases, to religious schools.
Today the American Civil Liberties Union announced it was joining a lawsuit against the program, declaring it “threatens church-state separation and public education.”
The Independence Institute fired back claiming the voucher program promotes “parental choice and educational freedom.” Moreover, the group claims, the state constitutional prohibition of spending tax money on religious schools stems from “anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Regardless of the motives for the measure, in fact Article IX, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution states the following:
Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever…
I cannot imagine more clear constitutional language: Douglas County may not direct tax funds to religious schools. Those who do not like that language, it seems to me, should seek to repeal it rather than ignore it.
I suppose one could (implausibly) argue that, by sending the money through parents first, it is not the government itself spending the money on religious schools. But the county knowingly approved religious schools for participation in the program.
Or one could argue that Colorado’s language violates the U.S. Constitution, though that seems to me a rather difficult case to make — especially for conservatives who typically militate against “judicial activism.”
But let us for now set aside the legal question, and focus on the more fundamental question of rights.
Do religious schools, in fact, have a right to forcibly seize wealth from those unwilling to pay it, through the governmental agencies of Douglas County? For those who believe in property rights and economic liberty, the obvious answer is “no.” People have the right to fund religious schools, or not to fund them, according to their own conscience.
Of course, the same point could be made about existing government schools, such as the Denver Green School which propagandizes children about environmentalism, akin to a religion. It is as much a rights violation to force people to fund an environmentalist school as a Christian school. But, about that, the ACLU will utter not a peep.
As I have suggested, if we take economic liberty and freedom of conscience seriously, there is ultimately only one way to protect people’s rights: separate school and state.
Anonymous commented June 26, 2011 at 9:07 AM
Separate school and state, I like that.
Education is valuable and desired therefore there is no justification for State intervention or interference. The free market can and will beautifully deliver relevant and efficient education.
A question to all separation of Church and State, pro state education folks. Why do you think it is okay to confiscate taxes from religious folks and use them for your secular Darwin schools?
No more Federal or State funding for education.
Ben DeGrow commented June 29, 2011 at 3:26 PM
“Do religious schools, in fact, have a right to forcibly seize wealth from those unwilling to pay it, through the governmental agencies of Douglas County? For those who believe in property rights and economic liberty, the obvious answer is ‘no.’ People have the right to fund religious schools, or not to fund them, according to their own conscience.”
Of course not, but that’s clearly not what is happening in Douglas County. Parents are directing dollars to schools — with a neutral opportunity to select religious or non-religious institutions — based on their free and independent choice. That’s where the Blaine Amendment and your argument fall down.
Ari commented June 30, 2011 at 10:20 AM
Ben, Is it not obvious that some of the tax dollars the parents are “directing… based on their free and independent choice” are forcibly seized from other taxpayers? What about their “free and independent choice?” That, I think, is where your argument falls down. -Ari