A Religion Tax In Nevada?: Americans United Tells State High Court Not To Force Taxpayers To Pay For Sectarian Education

Last summer, Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, signed S.B. 302 into law, establishing the largest school-voucher program in the country.

Under S.B. 302’s terms, any child who attends a Nevada public school for 100 consecutive days becomes eligible for a voucher account, which will receive money from the state treasury. That money can then be used for tuition, books, and fees at nearly any private school in the state – including private religious schools that are exempt from state regulation. There are no restrictions on how private schools may use the taxpayer funds they receive. And, what’s more, these tax dollars will come directly from the state’s public-school fund, depleting the money available for Nevada’s public schools.

Americans United and allied organizations filed suit on behalf of five Nevada citizens who object to having their tax dollars subsidize religious education. The lawsuit is now in the Nevada Supreme Court, and last week Americans United submitted its opening brief.

We argue that S.B. 302 violates the Nevada Constitution’s No-Aid Clause, which states that “[n]o public funds of any kind…shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

Voucher plans give taxpayer funds to private schools.

There is no question that the voucher money here is public. Voucher funds are taxpayer dollars that, were it not for the voucher program, would be given to Nevada’s public schools.

Nor is there any doubt that voucher funds are being used for a sectarian – that is, religious – purposes. One only has to look at the private religious schools that will receive this money.

One of those schools is Liberty Baptist Academy, which admits only students who attend approved churches. To “help families raise up their children for Christian service,” Liberty Baptist uses the A Beka curriculum. A Beka was developed by the founder of Pensacola Christian College and his wife and integrates religious instruction into every subject. For example, A Beka “present[s] government as ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order” and “point[s] out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe.” When teaching science, A Beka describes “the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution.” And A Beka teaches that “the laws of mathematics are a creation of God” and refuses to instruct students in “modern theories such as set theory.”

Another eligible school is Calvary Chapel Green Valley, which promises that every student “is taught from a Christ-centered Worldview recognizing God as Creator, Lord and Savior.” Calvary Chapel instructs students using both A Beka and curriculum from Bob Jones University, the Christian university that lost its federal tax-exempt status in 1983 because it forbade interracial dating, a policy that BJU claimed was part of its religious beliefs. The Bob Jones materials are similar to those of A Beka in that they interweave religious instruction throughout all subjects. For example, Bob Jones teaches students that “[m]uch of modern scientific thought is influenced by an anti-God bias,” and therefore its “science textbook[s] point[] out the infinite wisdom and designing hand of God in His creation and its laws.”

And Spring Valley Christian Academy, another private religious school that could receive tax dollars through Nevada’s voucher program, uses the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, which seeks to “build[] Godly citizens and [the] Christian leaders of tomorrow.” Among other things, ACE tells students that “men and dinosaurs lived at the same time”; that “[f]rom a Biblical perspective, God must have created dinosaurs on the sixth day,” the same day that “He created man”; and that “[i]f Noah took small or young dinosaurs on the Ark, it is likely that they would not have survived in the changed climate of the Earth after the Flood. Hence most dinosaur species became extinct.”

Parents, of course, may choose to send their children to schools like these. But they must do so with their own money. Forcing taxpayers to subsidize the religious education of other people’s children is not religious liberty; it is religious oppression. And Americans United will continue to confront attempts – like Nevada’s – to shuttle taxpayer dollars to schools like these.

The Nevada Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on July 29.