In November, voters in Michigan and California will vote on referenda on whether to implement private religious school voucher programs. If the voucher plans succeed, the religious freedom of taxpayers in both states will be seriously undermined, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Currently, both Michigan and California have strict and unambiguous constitutional provisions that prohibit state government from giving public funds to religious schools. But those protections against forced taxpayer support of religion will disappear in those states if the referenda pass. In California, the vouchers to private schools would be $4,000, while in Michigan, vouchers would be worth $3,100.
"Vouchers are a major threat to religious freedom," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "If these referenda pass, taxpayers will be required to finance private religious education, whether they agree with the religion or not.
"If families in Michigan and California want to send their children to private religious schools, that's their right," Lynn added. "But it's unfair to ask all of their neighbors to help finance that choice."
Both states have recently seen wealthy voucher supporters begin to give generously to their cause. According to a July 2 report in the Washington Times, the Roman Catholic Church in Michigan has already spent $765,000 in support of the voucher referendum there. That figure is expected to rise to about $5 million by Election Day, with considerable additional financial assistance coming from the conservative DeVos family.
But pro-voucher funds in Michigan pale in comparison to the drive in California. Tim Draper, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, is bankrolling his state's voucher effort and is reportedly willing to spend up to $40 million to see it pass.
Supporters of religious freedom and public schools have organized to adamantly oppose these efforts.
In Michigan, voucher opponents have created the "All Kids First" coalition, which already consists of 184 member organizations, including Americans United. For more information on opposing vouchers in Michigan, check the "All Kids First" website at http://allkidsfirst.org/index.html.
In California, the "No On Vouchers" coalition has formed and is actively educating voters about the dangers of a statewide voucher program. For additional information on California's effort to oppose vouchers, check the "No On Vouchers" website at http://www.novouchers2000.com/index.html.
Both of these states have dealt with the voucher issue in referenda before. Michigan considered similar referenda in 1970 and 1978, and voters rejected private school aid each time, in 1978 by a nearly 3 to 1 margin. Similarly, California voters have also considered the matter in two previous referenda, in 1982 and 1993. In each election, vouchers were defeated by wide margins.
"American taxpayers should never be forced to support religious indoctrination," AU's Lynn concluded. "When the government gives public funds to religious schools, it is ultimately no different than forcing taxpayers to put money in the collection plate."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
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.