Saturday, June 16, 2007

Leaving all the other children behind

The state's Constitution says, "no public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction," and elsewhere bars the use of public funds "in aid of ... any private or sectarian school."

The program allows government-issued vouchers, paid for out of government tax dollars paid from the state's treasury, to be used at parochial schools for education.

The judge hearing the case decided that the program was not a violation of the Constitution. Of course. The logic behind the decision was that the funds were for the benefit of the parents, not the schools, and that the parents had the choice as to whether or not to use the funds.

Of course this is nonsense. The fact is, government funds are being used to fund private education for a few students, while stripping those same funds from the masses of students who don't qualify for the vouchers. The judge and the defendants take the position that the vouchers do not qualify as government funds because they are provided to the parents, but in actuality, the parent is little more than a holding company for the check between the school and the state. The parent has the choice of what private school to enroll his or her child in (perhaps), but the funds are not to be used to pay for parochial education, per the constitution.

Consider this - these vouchers are for education - in other words, there is no other way for the parents to use the funds except to pay for private school. They have no property right in the money, they have a property right in the education. If they choose not to spend the voucher on private school, they may not use the funds for anything else. There is no real way to view this other than a government check for private education, and in the majority of cases, that equates to a religious education. It strikes me funny that the judge somehow managed to convince herself that this in no way violated the First Amendment or the Arizona Constitution.

I'm not opposed to parochial education, and I'm not opposed to a voucher program, per se. I think everyone should have the right to attend private school if they want, at their own expense. However, I am opposed to a program where the state gives money to some individuals at the expense of the majority of individuals so that those students don't have to pay for a religious education (and resulting in fewer funds to help the majority of students left behind). I think any program that results in a masked government funding program for religious education is violative of the First Amendment, and in this case, the state's constitution, and that this needs to not happen.

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