Without hearings and under the rubric of providing assistance to displaced students in the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of the tragic Katrina and Rita hurricanes, Congress has approved restart funding and tuition assistance for public, private, and religious schools without necessary constitutional and anti-discrimination safeguards.
We are very sympathetic to the plight of the students who attend the devastated schools in the Gulf Coast region, but this funding scheme does not provide appropriate firewalls against taxpayer funding of religious instruction and proselytizing – and sets a disturbing precedent for the future.
The provisions approved by Congress do not include necessary prohibitions against using these funds for religious education – or even worship services. Under the bill, parents would be forced to affirmatively act to 'opt-out' their children from these religious worship activities or classes. In addition, this bill would permit federally funded religious discrimination in hiring teachers for these private and religious schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers in certain, limited circumstances did not violate First Amendment principles of church-state separation. But the Court did not say vouchers were a good idea. We will continue to oppose government funding for religious schools as an infringement on religious liberty – because such funds will inevitably be accompanied by an unacceptable effort by the government to monitor and control religious activities.