Interfaith Alliance strongly opposes voucher programs that fund private religious schools. Our organization is committed to the integrity and freedom of American religious communities and to the stalwart defense of the First Amendment – both of which are undermined when public tax dollars fund private, parochial schools.
If America’s religious communities are to remain vibrant and strong, then every community must retain the right to educate young people in the doctrine and practices of its traditions. These beliefs need not agree with secular understandings of science and history to be worthy of protection; religious education need not have the goal of preparing our children for the 21st century workforce to be valued. However, these are the primary goals of public education, and when religious schools receive government money they are necessarily subject to scrutiny and evaluation. This puts the government in a position of determining which religious doctrines – which types of religious education – live up to educational standards and merit public support. Such external judgment and evaluation of religious communities and beliefs is untenable if we are to maintain religious freedom in America – yet it is unavoidable if we continue to send our public money to private schools.
The civil rights and religious freedom of students at private, parochial schools are also of deep concern to all those who champion the First Amendment. Too often private schools receiving public money are not held to the same civil rights standards as public schools, including those standards set in Title VI, Title IX, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). When religious schools use their exemptions to compromise the rights and freedoms of their students, they justify gender discrimination, dictate the religious practices of students, and jeopardize the rights of students with disabilities. Moreover, they do so with public money and thus the tacit cooperation of the government.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby and the debates over religious freedom legislation in Indiana and Arkansas, many in our nation have been reexamining the relationship between our Constitution’s promise of religious freedom and the protection of civil rights. But surely there must be clear line: when an entity receives federal funding – in the form of a school voucher, or otherwise – it must fully comply with federal civil rights standards, regardless of its religious affiliation.
It is for these reasons that Interfaith Alliance opposes the use of public funds for religious schools. As we move forward as a nation in the work of safeguarding the religious freedom and civil rights of all, such public funding of private, religious schools, stands out as a particularly egregious threat to religious freedom.