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Supreme Court supports tax breaks that subsidize religious schools


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  • Supreme Court supports tax breaks that subsidize religious schools

    source: LA Times
    The court rules, 5-4, in favor of Arizona tax credits for those who give money to parochial schools and says the credits cannot be challenged as unconstitutional. Justice Elena Kagan dissents, objecting to the court's distinction between tax breaks and tax subsidies.

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court opened the door to a new form of state support for religious schools, upholding special tax credits in Arizona for those who give money to church schools and ruling that critics may not challenge such a plan as unconstitutional.

    The 5-4 decision goes further than ever before to shield government subsidies for religion from being challenged in court.

    In the past, the court has said that taxpayers can go to court and sue if a state or a federal agency violates the 1st Amendment ban on subsidizing "an establishment of religion." Acting on such suits, courts struck down a series of state laws in recent decades that gave public money to parochial schools.

    In Monday's decision, however, the court's conservative bloc ruled that dissenting taxpayers may not sue to challenge special tax breaks that subsidize religious teaching. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said a tax break differs from a direct subsidy because the money comes from the wallet of the person making the donation, not from the state.

    In Arizona, a taxpayer may take a dollar-for-dollar credit, up to $500 per person or $1,000 for a married couple, and give this money to one of several school tuition organizations. Those groups advertise that donors may send money to subsidize a religious school, and "it won't cost you a dime."

    Several taxpayers sued and won a ruling that this scheme unconstitutionally subsidized religion. The Supreme Court reversed that decision in Arizona Christian Tuition Organization vs. Winn. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. formed the majority.

    In her first dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan objected to the court's distinction between tax breaks and tax subsidies. She said it made no sense and left the door wide open for broad government subsidies for religion.

    "Cash grants and targeted tax breaks are means of accomplishing the same government objective," Kagan wrote, which in this instance is to subsidize church schools. "Taxpayers who oppose state aid for religion have equal reason to protest whether that aid flows from one form of subsidy or the other. … From now on, the government need follow just one simple rule — subsidize through the tax system," she wrote, and it will be shielded from challenges in federal court.

    For decades, the court had said the states may not directly support parochial schools with public money. All along, however, taxpayers were free to take a deduction for supporting religious groups and charities. The Arizona law differs in degree. By offering a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, it allows a taxpayer to send money to a religious school rather than send the same dollars to the state government.

    Defenders of the law argued that it depended on the free choice of taxpayers. The high court in the past had upheld state laws that offered tuition vouchers to low-income families who, in turn, could send their children to religious schools.

    Critics of the Arizona law, however, said it permitted and encouraged diverting state money into religious schools.

    The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church State, called the ruling "misguided" and said it "betrays the public school system by directing tax dollars to religious schools." He said about 92% of the funds collected under the law paid for tuition at religious schools.
    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

  • #2
    Interesting story, but those that are against the tax break should consider that there are tax deductions for giving to charities both religious and non-religious based that can be taken on federal taxes, so why not be given the tax break if someone gives to a religious based school of their choice.

    "For weapons training they told me to play DOOM"


    • #3
      I'd like some more information on the AZ law. The LA Times article makes it sound as though the tax credit law only applies to parochial schools, only the last quote hints that the law also applies to secular private schools as well. If that is the case it seems to me that AZ is promoting private education not religion if they limited the tax credits to secular private schools they would be punishing people for their religious beliefs which is prohibited by the 1st Amendment.
      When Society makes war on its police, it better be prepared to make friends of its criminals.


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