Americans United Opposes Senate Plan To Give Voucher Aid To Religious Schools

$2.4-Billion Katrina Proposal Forces Taxpayers To Subsidize Religion, Says Church-State Watchdog Group

A hurricane-relief bill introduced in the Senate today would divert massive public funding to religious schools and should be rejected, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

A bill negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) authorizes a $2.4-billion education recovery plan to aid evacuee students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. It includes a student account measure that would pay up to $6,000 for tuition and other costs for students who attend religious schools. (The figure would rise to $7,500 for students with disabilities).

“This bill is deeply misguided,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The bill does not use the word ‘voucher,’ but that’s what this really is. This gives millions of dollars in virtually unrestricted cash grants to religious schools.

“I know the hurricane damage in the Gulf region has been severe,” he continued, “but the Constitution does not have an exemption for natural disasters. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for tuition at religious schools.

“All of us want evacuee families to get as much help as possible,” Lynn concluded, “but we must not cast aside key civil liberties and civil rights protections in the process.”

Lynn said the measure raises alarming education policy concerns.

  • The bill forces taxpayers to subsidize religion. It sets up the first broad-based nationwide voucher program directing federal tax dollars to religious schools.
  • The bill reflects a misunderstanding about the nature of religious schools. It supposedly allows publicly subsidized students to opt out of religious worship or instruction to which they object. Yet many religious schools include religious concepts in most classes throughout the school day, often from a very sectarian perspective. An opt-out in such cases is meaningless. Tax dollars should not go to private schools that teach creationism instead of accepted science in biology classes.

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.

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.