Back To Basics: AU Trustee Reminds Coloradans That School Vouchers Violate Religious Liberty

Americans should have the right to contribute only to the religious groups of their choosing – or to contribute to none at all.

The situation involving school vouchers in Douglas County, Colo., is a real disgrace.

The county school board was hijacked by a bloc of right-wing activists. They immediately began looking for ways to privatize public services. Someone got the bright idea that public schools would be a good place to start, and the board was off to the races.

A decision was made to award up to 500 vouchers worth $4,575 apiece for tuition at religious and other private schools. However, there’s one small drawback: It’s illegal. Colorado’s Constitution contains several provisions barring the diversion of tax funds to religious institutions. State laws also mandate that education funds remain under public control.

The board, in a transparent attempt to get around these provisions, has insisted that the voucher students are really attending a charter school. Students enrolled in this phantom charter school are then farmed out to a bevy of private (mostly religious) schools.

Funny thing about that charter school: It has no building, no teachers, no textbooks and no supplies. You’d almost assume it didn’t really exist!

Fortunately, state District Court Judge Michael A. Martinez saw right through this ruse and issued a powerful ruling striking down the scheme. An appeal is likely, but be assured that Americans United and our allies will remain on the case.

In the meantime, voucher proponents are unleashing a barrage of propaganda assailing the ruling. Among them is George Will, the well known national columnist.

A recent Phi Delta Kappa poll shows that support for vouchers is hitting new lows. But there’s always a need to keep educating the public about this issue. Karen Ringen, a member of the AU Board of Trustees and a Colorado resident, is doing just that.

Karen has an excellent op-ed in the Denver Post that steps back and takes a look at the big picture. She explains why vouchers are a threat to church-state separation and religious freedom. Take a look – and feel free to use the arguments in it to fight proposals to award tax aid to religious schools in your state. (One correction: The op-ed refers to President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about church-state separation and says it took place in 1962. The speech was actually delivered in 1960. AU helped Karen with the research on this piece, and that’s our mistake. We apologize.)

Americans should have the right to contribute only to the religious groups of their choosing – or to contribute to none at all. When the government takes your money and gives it to a religious school that uses it to spread its dogma, that basic freedom is violated.

Ringen’s column reminds us of that. Vouchers don’t work, they undermine public schools and Americans don’t support them. All of that is bad enough. But the main problem with vouchers is that they violate the core principle of religious liberty. That is why they must be opposed.