End Public Funding of Religious Schools

Thomas Jefferson, one of the architects of religious freedom in America, said, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves... is sinful and tyrannical." Voucher programs violate this principle by using taxpayer funds to supplement religious educations at private religious institutions.

Through taxpayer-funded voucher programs and tax deductions, public funds are used for the purpose of religious indoctrination of children. Vouchers provide citizens with direct funding to apply to private school tuitions. Tax deduction programs fund private religious institutions indirectly by allowing taxpayers to claim tax credits on their personal income taxes, reducing the amount paid to the state and shifting the money to the private school of the taxpayer’s choice. Both programs allow for the public funding of religious educations.

Public schools accept all children regardless of disabilities, test scores, religion, or other characteristics. Private schools can and do discriminate based on income, disability, student or parental sexual orientation, and religious beliefs or lack thereof. Religious schools seek to indoctrinate their students and promote specific traditions and beliefs.

Vouchers and tax credits are often used to fund religious training:

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 80 percent of all private school students attend religiously affiliated schools. [1]   The majority of students who use vouchers will use them to fund their education at one of these religious institutions, which seek to promote specific religious traditions and beliefs.
  • Vouchers often only cover the cost of religious school tuition, which is generally cheaper than secular private schools. A July 2009 report by Rutgers University on the Washington, D.C. voucher program found that the $7,500 voucher provided per student would have to be increased to $24,000 to cover the cost of the average secular private school in the area. The report found that the cost difference “essentially push[es] students into Christian Association and Catholic schools, pricing out independent (non-religious) schools and Hebrew schools.”
  • Private religious schools take public money, but can and do violate federal discrimination laws by choosing to admit or deny students admission based on religion. Conversely, public schools accept all children regardless of religion, disabilities, test scores, or other characteristics.
  •  Once students are enrolled in religious schools they are often required to attend frequent worship services—with no option to opt out—and experience an educational bias in the subjects they learn that may promote religious ideology in place of accepted scientific theory, despite that the school is receiving taxpayer funding. [2] 

Tax credit programs are quickly gaining in popularity. As of May 2011, 10 tax credit programs existed in eight states. The programs allow individuals and corporations to allocate a portion of the state taxes they owe to private school tuition for K-12 students. [3]  Some school tuition organizations allow scholarship recipients to attend only specified religious schools.

While parents certainly may choose a religious education for their children, no taxpayer should be forced to furnish funds in support of a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even a religion with which he or she does agree. The voucher and tax credit programs violate a central tenet of our secular government by using taxpayer money to fund primarily religious educations.

The Secular Coalition for America takes no position on the use of vouchers for secular private education. However, we oppose any form of public funding that supports religious institutions or religious training, including vouchers and tax exemptions.

[1] National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011339.pdf

[2]  “Should you pay taxes to support religious schools?”, Americans United for Separation of Church and State,  http://www.au.org/resources/publications/should-you-pay-taxes

[3] National Conference of State Legislatures, “Scholarship Tax Credits,” http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid


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