Arizona Tax Credit Decision Damages Wall Of Separation Between Church And State, Says AU

The Arizona Supreme Court's ruling approving a tax credit scheme to aid private religious schools jeopardizes public education and church-state separation, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

By a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the state high court upheld a 1997 law allowing people to take a tax credit for money donated to organizations that subsidize private school tuition.

"This decision continues the gradual destruction of the wall of separation between church and state that has been under way in the courts," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, one of 11 groups that challenged the program. "It should be a wake-up call to Americans that their fundamental right to support only the religion of their choice is under relentless attack."

Critics say Arizona's public schools could lose as much as $60 million in funding due to the credit. Lynn noted that the Arizona scheme was promoted by the same forces that have advocated vouchers and other forms of direct taxpayer aid to religious schools. These organizations, he charged, want to privatize education in America.

"Unfortunately, the court majority chose to advance the far right's goal of gradually defunding public education," said Lynn. "Americans had better realize they can't count on the courts on this issue. They must make sure that their legislators don't pass misguided schemes like this one.

"While the Arizona decision is deplorable," Lynn said, "it breaks little new legal ground. We're disappointed, but it's important to note that this was not a voucher case. Other state courts have reached different conclusions about the constitutionality of more direct forms of aid to religious schools."

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.