Thursday, September 26, 2013

Evolution Moment for October

In her book, Evolution v. Creationism, Eugenie Scott, the former Director of the National Center for Science Education, wrote,

“Science operates by testing explanations of natural phenomena against the natural world. Explanations that are disproved are rejected; explanations that are not disproved—that are corroborated—are provisionally accepted.…An important element of testing is being able to hold constant some of the conditions of the test, so that a causative effect can be correctly assigned.

“The ultimate statement of creationism—that the present universe came about as the result of the action or actions of a divine Creator—is thus outside the abilities of science to test. If there is an omnipotent force in the universe, it would by definition be impossible to hold constant (to control) its effects. A scientist could control for the effects of temperature, light, humidity or predators—but it would be impossible to control the actions of God!”

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Religious-School Aid Passes, Is Vetoed

At the MCPEARL Biennial Meeting on April 17, Jody Siegle told members how a powerful lobby pushed through the N.Y. State legislature a special education bill to segregate children on a religious basis and grant unlimited funds for religious schools.

Siegle is the Executive Director of the Monroe County School Boards Association and a MCPEARL board member.

On the last day of the 2012 session, without public notice or discussion, legislators passed a bill requiring each public school district to “take into account any possible educational impact differences between the school environment and family background may have on the child’s ability to receive a free appropriate public education.”

If parents thought their child would learn better at a private school, they could sue the district for private-school tuition. The district, but not the parents, must provide documents to support its opinion. The bill put the burden of proof on the district.

The measure placed no limit on the amount of money the school district would have to pay the private schools.

Siegle said no study has shown that children learn better in a culturally or religiously segregated environment. She felt sure that if anyone had done such a study, the bill’s supporters would have made use of it.

The legislation contradicted federal policy, expressed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which favors education for children with special needs in the least restrictive environment.

The bill does not use the word religion. When Siegle first read it, she thought rich parents from rich school districts wanted to put their children into luxurious private schools.

However, she brought to the meeting copies of a newspaper article that credited the Jewish ultra-orthodox organization Agudath Israel for the coup. The story came from Hamodia, a newspaper that bills itself The Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry.

The article said, “‘This is something I have been dreaming of since the day I got into the Agudah. This is what I wanted. This was the goal,”’ Mrs. Leah Steinberg, director of Agudath Israel’s Special Education Affairs for the past 12 years told Hamodia.”

“Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn), whose help Agudath Israel said was indispensable in getting the bill passed, told Hamodia…that she was proudest of this law.”

“One member of Agudath Israel who was involved in every aspect of the law said that Ms. Weinstein had gradually taken a deep personal interest in helping pass the bill.…she actually helped draft the language with ideas how to do it and what to do.”

After the bill passed, the New York State Catholic Conference came out in favor of it.

Siegle singled out for praise Monroe County Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, a former school board member, who recognized the intolerable burden the bill would place on school districts and voted against it.

Siegle felt that the hurry of the last day did not excuse all those legislators who voted for the bill without reading it.

As soon as the news got out, the public education community and other good-government groups raised an outcry, and the governor vetoed the bill. In his veto message, he listed many of the civic groups who objected to the bill.

Siegle said she asked Senator John Flanagan, who had sponsored the bill in the Senate, whether he would back a similar bill. Flanagan said he would not support that bill.

No legislator has tried to override the governor’s veto.

Fast Work Repels Vouchers

With quick action, the friends of public education fought off a March attempt to create a federal voucher program.

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Rand Paul proposed to change Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the basic law providing federal education aid to poor children, into a voucher plan.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) Legislative Director Maggie Garrett heard rumors of a March 22 Senate floor vote on vouchers little more than two days before the event.

On March 21, Alexander and Paul declared in a press release that their measure would direct $4.5 billion in existing Title I funds to “follow low-income children to any accredited school, public or private.”

AU co-chairs the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), a coalition with more than 50 member organizations.

Garrett arranged for a letter to the senators from NCPE. Leaders of NCPE’s member organizations talked with particular senators ahead of the vote. They called on their individual members to contact their own senators.

On March 22, Alexander and Paul introduced their scheme as an amendment to a budget bill. On that day, the Senate considered dozens of measures in a marathon session. Leadership limited remarks on any one bill to just two minutes.

On the floor, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin spoke against the scheme.

He said, “We have tried this before. The District of Columbia has a voucher program that we passed in Congress in 2003. And guess what they have found since 2003? It made no impact whatsoever on student achievement, and now the program is to the point it is being phased out.”

The Senators defeated the plan, 60-39.

N.Y. State Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand voted against
the proposal.

Mass. Supreme Court to Hear Pledge Suit

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) planned to hear in May a challenge to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In February, the Court requested amicus (friend of the court) briefs from those who have a strong interest in the suit, but are not parties to it.

The Lowell Sun reported that the SJC, in its call for briefs, described the case as identifying “important issues of state constitutional and statutory law concerning the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Backed by the American Humanist Association (AHA), an unidentified atheist family has charged the Acton-Boxboro Regional School District with religious discrimination.

The family argues that the words “under God” in the Pledge violate the equal rights amendment in the Massachusetts Constitution.

It also contends that the daily recital of the Pledge constitutes unlawful discrimination, because the recitation endorses a religion.

Roy Speckhardt, AHA president, wrote, “By tying patriotism to God-belief, public schools not only cast a cloud of suspicion over atheists and humanists, but they make it impossible for atheist-humanist children to meaningfully participate in the daily exercise of the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Acton-Boxboro Superintendent Stephen Mills wrote, “For both students and teachers, participation in the Pledge of Allegiance is totally voluntary.”

In June 2012, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty upheld the Pledge. She called it a patriotic exercise, not a prayer. She ruled that the phrase “under God” was not a religious truth.

Geoffrey Bok, Boxboro’s lawyer, wrote in his brief, that if the SJC limited the Pledge, “It would establish an unprecedented right of any student or parents to block public school teachings that are offensive to their religious beliefs, even if the alleged offensive teachings are made totally voluntary.”

The case is Doe v. Boxboro.

New Funds for N.Y. Catholic Schools

After its March lobbying trip to Albany, the website of the New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) reported, “Lawmakers provide $4.5 million in a new funding stream to our schools for safety equipment—in response to the horrific school shootings that have occurred around the country.”

The NYSCC represents the Bishops of New York State in matters of public policy.

Every March, the NYSCC organizes a lobbying trip, with a wish list, to the N.Y. State Legislature.

This year, the lawmakers had committed additional funds for public school safety measures as part of the gun control bill, so the NYSCC sought money for Catholic school safety equipment.

In preparation for lobby day, the NYSCC advised its supporters to send this letter:

“I am outraged that the needs of Catholic schools and our families are being ignored while additional efforts are being made to support public schools. For example, the funds you already committed for school safety projects apply only to public schools and do nothing to address the safety of children in Catholic schools. Does the safety of our students not matter?”

The Catholic schools got the money. The phrase, “new funding stream” implies that the NYSCC considers this aid an entitlement, and plans to lobby annually for it.

KY Won't Bankroll Religious Coercion

“Our mission is to provide care and hope for hurting families through Christ-centered ministries. I want this mission to permeate our agency like the very blood through our bodies. I want to provide Christian support to every child, staff member, and foster parent,” wrote William Smithwick, president of Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in 1998.

Kentucky assigned needy children to the Baptist Home’s care and paid it $10-$15 million annually.
In May, as the result of a thirteen-year legal battle, Kentucky agreed to ban religious discrimination, coercion, and proselytization in the child care agencies it supports.

It established a system to monitor the agencies closely, especially the Kentucky Baptist Homes, now renamed Sunrise Children’s Services.

As defined in the settlement, “Proselytize or proselytization shall mean an affirmative attempt to induce a child to convert to a particular faith against the wishes or without the knowing and voluntary prior consent of the child.”

Sunrise did not agree to the settlement, and tried to block it.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky settled with taxpayer plaintiffs, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Kentucky.

In the course of the litigation, Kentucky hired a private contractor to monitor programs that served children, and the contractor provided abundant evidence of religious coercion.

The state cancelled the scrutiny in 2008, but it will now resume.

Under the settlement, the state must consider whether the children or their guardians object to placement in a sectarian facility and make reasonable efforts to provide alternatives.

Agencies contracting with the state must not discriminate against any child on the basis of religion or pressure children to take part in religious worship or instruction.

Agency personnel must not place religious symbols in children’s rooms without their consent. They may give religious materials only to children who request them.

Kentucky must prepare an anonymous exit survey for each child. Surveys must ask if the child experienced religious coercion, discrimination or proselytization during placement. Public officials must investigate any such allegations and take action.

Case workers must question children about the agency’s religious activities and accommodations and document the children’s responses. If a case worker thinks the agency has religiously coerced, discriminated, or proselytized, the worker must report the matter to appropriate officials, who must investigate and take action.

For seven years Kentucky officials must provide the surveys and caseworker reports from Sunrise’s clients to the plaintiffs’ counsel.

Kentucky officials must tell the plaintiffs’ counsel about the investigation of any complaint against any agency. If an agency becomes the subject of such an investigation, the plaintiffs’ lawyer should get the surveys and caseworker reports for that agency as it does for Sunrise.

This suit, Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Homes, did not begin as an effort to reform the Kentucky child-care system.

In 1998, Kentucky Baptist Homes fired Alice Pedreira because her “admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children core values.”

When Americans United looked into her complaint, it uncovered a host of other church-state problems. The court ruled against Pedreira on her employment discrimination claim, but she remained the lead plaintiff in the suit. She now works for the Louisville city government as an educator on HIV prevention issues.

Louisiana Voucher Law Struck Down

In May, the Louisiana State Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s voucher plan, because it pays nonpublic schools with funds dedicated for public schools by the state constitution.

The Louisiana constitution names the dedicated fund the “Minimum Foundation Program” (MFP).

Under the voucher program, 4,700 students have been paying public funds to attend private schools, and officials expected that number to increase to 8,000 by September.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Governor Bobby Jindal’s response, “We’re disappointed the funding mechanism was rejected, but we are committed to make sure this program continues, and we will fund it through the budget.”

The Legislature controls the budget, and it may need persuasion.

Jindal held a pro-voucher rally on the capitol steps. He told voucher fans,

“I want you to share your stories with the legislators and others, inside this building. I know my friends in the Legislature, if they hear your compelling stories, they will join us, to make sure not only this program stays this year and next year, but this program continues to grow.”

The voucher scheme formed part of the 2012-2013 school funding act. The State Supreme Court declared the whole funding act invalid, because the House of Representatives had passed it with a simple majority under circumstances that required a two-thirds majority.

The ruling puts the 2011-2012 funding act into effect.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John C. White told reporters that the voucher rejection would send a refund of $12 million to Louisiana public schools. The reversion to the 2011-2012 act would send another $18 million to the public schools.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), the Louisiana Association of Educators LAE), and the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) challenged the act.

The case is LFT v. Louisiana.

Voucher Victory Appealed

In February, a Colorado State Appeals court upheld a voucher plan adopted by the Douglas County school district.

The Colorado Constitution has strict and specific language forbidding state funds for sectarian schools, but two of the three appeals judges rationalized it away.

Judge Steve Bernard dissented strongly and would have struck down the voucher scheme.

He wrote “In my view, [the Colorado Constitution] prohibits public school districts from channeling public money to private religious schools. I think that the Choice Scholarship Program is a pipeline that violates this direct and clear constitutional command.”

In April, the plaintiffs appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

To distribute its vouchers, Douglas County created a bogus charter school: a single district employee in an office.

The fake charter school enrolled children already accepted at private schools and then delegated their education to the private schools. Practically all the private schools advanced religion throughout their programs.

The charter school then sent tuition checks to the private schools. The district employee made the checks out to the parents, but nobody could cash them until the parents endorsed them to the private schools.

Each check paid 75% of the state funds allotted to the district for the child’s education. The district kept the other 25%.

County Resident James La Rue sued, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Colorado, and Americans United for Separation of Church and state (AU).

Article IX, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution says,

“Neither the general assembly, nor any…school district…shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school…controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever…”

The Appeals Court majority relied on two cases in which judges upheld state aid to sectarian Colorado colleges.

In one, the Colorado Supreme Court declared colleges less sectarian in effect than elementary and secondary schools.

In the other, a federal appeals court said the U.S. Constitution forbade Colorado to distinguish among sectarian colleges, so as to deny aid to the pervasively sectarian ones.

The plaintiffs have urged the Colorado Supreme Court to take the case, because the Appeals Court ruling renders meaningless the specific restrictions in the Colorado Constitution.

They point out that,

1. The Colorado Supreme Court decision specifically excluded elementary and secondary schools,
2. Article IX, Section 7 bars aid to all sectarian schools, without distinguishing among them, and
3. The U.S. Supreme Court allows states to enforce stricter separation of church and state than the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The case is LaRue v. Colorado.

Judge Hears NH Tax Credit Suit

“There’s no dispute that some of the money under this program is going to go to a religious school without restrictions,” said Judge John Lewis of Strafford, New Hampshire Superior Court.

“The very first thing that’s being questioned is whether or not the money that’s used to fund tuition constitutes quote ‘money raised by taxation.’”

In April, Judge Lewis considered whether a state tax credit law violated the state constitution.

The law, passed in June 2012, allows businesses credits against state income taxes equal to 85% of the amount they donate to state-designated scholarship organizations.

The New Hampshire Constitution says, “No money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of any religious sect or denomination.”

The scholarship organizations may award scholarships to elementary and secondary schools, both public and nonpublic, and to pay for home-schooling.

In states that have such laws, the major scholarship organizations pay only for scholarships to sectarian schools.

New Hampshire’s lawyer, Richard Head, argued that the donated money is never paid to the state, so it is not raised by taxation.

Alex Luchenitser argued for the plaintiffs, “This program uses the tax system to deliver funding for the program. If there was no business profits tax, this program would not exist. The only way we can run this program is if a business owes the tax and chooses to divert some of the tax to this program.

Under questioning from Judge Lewis, Head conceded that if the business chose not to make the contribution, the money would go to the state.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) back the plaintiffs. Luchenitser is the associate legal director at Americans United.

Governor Maggie Hassan has tried to repeal the tax credit law, but the Senate has balked.

The case is Duncan v. New Hampshire.

Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Vouchers

The Indiana Constitution contains two sections that bar tax-raised funds for religious bodies. In March, the State Supreme Court interpreted away both of them to uphold an Indiana voucher law.

Article I, Section 4 says, “No person shall be compelled to…support any place of worship or maintain any ministry, against his conscience.”

The court said, “This clause is a restraint upon government compulsion of individuals to engage in religious practices absent their consent. To limit the government’s taxing and spending related to religious matters, the framers drafted Section 6.”

Article I, Section 6 says “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”

The Court held that the vouchers primarily benefited parents and children rather than religious schools. It said, “Any benefit that may be derived by program-eligible schools are ancillary to the benefit conferred on families with program-eligible children.”

The case is Meredith v. Pence.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tax Payments for Sectarian Schools

A N.Y. State Assembly bill would send tax-raised funds on a roundabout journey to the checking accounts of sectarian schools.

Under A 1826, the Education Investment Incentives Act, a taxpayer would give money to a scholarship organization created for a particular religious body or set of schools.

The taxpayer would collect a 100% credit for the donation against his or her state income tax BILL. This credit would not be the familiar charitable deduction from income before taxes. The state would pay all, not part, of the donation.

The scholarship organization would send on the donor’s money to a non-public, usually sectarian, school as tuition for a student who satisfies the criteria, usually religious, for admission.

In effect, N.Y. State would direct the income tax payments of donors to sectarian schools.

The bill forbids public officials to regulate the schools funded under it.

The bill probably violates Art. XI, Section 3, of the N.Y. Constitution, which explicitly forbids the use of state credit in aid or maintenance of any religious school.

Church Seeks Rent-Free School Space

In November 2012, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of N.Y. City v. Bronx Household of Faith.

Bronx Household seeks to overturn this N.Y. City Education Department policy:

“No permit shall be granted for the purpose of holding religious worship services or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.”

N.Y. City does not charge rent to the civic groups that use its schools.

The Bronx Household of Faith and other churches want to hold worship services rent-free in public schools.

They say the city unconstitutionally burdens their free exercise of religion when it makes them rent worship space elsewhere.

Jordan Lorence, attorney for Bronx Household, told the Appeals Court that the U.S. Constitution required N.Y. City public schools to host religious worship services.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Judge Guido Calabresi responded that he was “troubled by your argument that the Constitution requires a city to allow a religion to do what you do simply because it is a religion.”

He added, “That is a remarkable argument. You want to do what goes beyond what everybody else does.”

A Reuters article quoted Lorence, “They’re focusing on a type of worship that is Judeo-Christian, and that is the type of religion being excluded.”

The AP reported Judge Pierre Leval’s answer, that the city’s policy applied to everybody, so it did not discriminate.

Jane Gordon, senior counsel of the N.Y. City Law Department, has explained the policy. She said the city “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”

Under the policy, the city has twice refused permits to Bronx Household, and the church has sued.

Both times, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska agreed with the church’s’s constitutional claims and authorized it to hold services in P.S. 15 while the case travelled through the federal court system.

As a result of her rulings, about 60 congregations conduct worship services in various N.Y. City schools.

In a an earlier suit before the same Appeals panel, Bronx Household made a different constitutional claim, that the city’s rule violated the church’s U.S. constitutional right to free speech.

It said the city allowed many other kinds of expressive activities in its schools, some including such elements of religious worship as prayers.

Therefore the city couldn’t discriminate against religious worship services.

In June 2011, the panel upheld the city’s policy. It characterized a religious worship service as a unique activity, different from other forms of expression.

Judge Leval wrote, “The prohibition against using school facilities for the conduct of religious services bars a type of activity. It does not discriminate against any point of view.”

Bronx Household soon returned to U.S. District Court with the current claim, that the city’s policy burdens the church’s U.S. constitutional right to free exercise of religion, by forcing it to pay rent for worship space.

The Appeals panel will rule soon on the free-exercise claim.

In an amicus brief to the Appeals Court, Americans United for Separation of Church and State commented sarcastically on Judge Preska’s decision.

“It is apparently the view of the district court and Bronx Household that withdrawal of this subsidy would impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of Bronx Household and other churches, because they have grown so much while using school property during the long years during which the Board’s policy has been enjoined by the district court that—if forced to move to more expensive private facilities—they would be unable to afford to continue the same level or breadth of religious activity they engage in now.…

“In other words, the ruling below suggests that the Board cannot constitutionally withdraw a subsidy that it never voluntarily provided in the first place, but was instead forced to grant by the district court, because some New York City churches have effectively become ‘hooked’ on the subsidy.”

In 2011, after the Appeals Court upheld the city’s policy, the N.Y. State Senate passed a bill requiring N.Y. City schools to host religious worship services. Before the Assembly could act, Bronx Household returned to U.S. District Court with its current claim, and the bill died.

If the Appeals Court upholds the city policy, as seems likely, we can expect another such bill. MCPEARL has written to state legislative leaders and Monroe County legislators urging them to reject any such measure.

The case is N.Y. City v. Bronx Household of Faith.

Okay to Ban Grad Prayer

In 2009, A.M., a student in the Taconic Hills, N.Y. School District planned to end her middle school graduation speech with a blessing.

She meant to say,

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

School officials told her that she must drop that passage from her speech.

She obeyed, and her family sued the district in federal court. They said the officials had violated the girl’s U.S. constitutional right to free speech.

In January 2012, a Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the officials had the right to cut A.M.’s blessing.

Because A.M. gave her speech at a school-sponsored ceremony, the district could censor it for appropriate educational reasons.

The U.S. constitutional ban on government establishment of religion gave the district an appropriate educational reason to bar the blessing.

The panel made an additional point, not strictly necessary for its result.

If a district sponsors a forum to discuss a topic from various viewpoints, it must allow religious viewpoints; but the panel did not consider A.M.’s blessing a viewpoint.

It said, “We believe that the final sentence in A.M.’s speech constituted purely religious speech.…rather than a statement offering a religiously-informed viewpoint on an otherwise secular subject matter.”

Therefore, the district could forbid the blessing.

An amicus brief from Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the court to rule that the school district had a duty as well as a right to censor the blessing, but the court did not oblige.

The case is McKay v. Taconic Hills.

Ejected Counselor Gets Cash, Loses Cause

In December, Julea Ward settled her lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University (EMU).
As a counseling student, Ward refused on religious grounds to counsel patients about same-sex relationships. When her teachers could not change her mind, they expelled her.

She sued the university in federal court.

“The resolution of the lawsuit leaves the University’s policies, programs, and curricular requirements intact,” said Walter Kraft, the university’s vice president for communications.

“The faculty retains the right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program.”

EMU paid Ward $75,000 to settle.

Although Ward made money out of the suit, the settlement constitutes a defeat for her Religious Right backer, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

ADF had aimed for much more, to curtail the power of the American Counseling Association (ACA), whose ethics code governs non-sectarian counseling programs.

Well before the settlement, the EMU student newspaper quoted Ward’s ADF lawyer, Jeremy Tedesco,
“What we’re seeing is public universities and these associations like the American Counseling Association that adopt these codes of ethics, is those groups starting to interpret the code of ethics in professions that gerrymander people of faith out of the profession completely.”

In January 2012, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals made a superficially sympathetic ruling in Ward’s suit. It said a jury might find that her teachers had acted from personal religious bias. It sent the case back to the District Court for a trial on the facts.

However, the Appeals Court did not find fault with the ACA code of ethics.

Therefore, ADF had little to gain from a trial. If the ethics code stood, an EMU defeat on the facts would lead only to more tactful code enforcement.

The Ypsilanti Reporter wrote, “Ward’s legal counsel, Jeremy Tedesco, said he is pleased and feels that Ward’s constitutionally protected rights have been ‘vindicated.’”
The case is Ward v. Polite.

Cheerleaders Show Bible Verses

“They weren’t getting very fired up by ‘Kill the cougars,’ so if we say ‘you have power, God gives you strength,’ I mean, that makes me want to do good,” Ashton Jennings, a Kountze, Texas cheerleader told KBTV.

This season, Kountze High School’s eighteen varsity cheerleaders displayed banners with Bible verses during football games.

One said, “But thanks be to God, which gives us victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Kountze Lions football team crashed through the banners as it took to the field.

In September, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) contacted Superintendent Kevin Weldon with a citizen complaint. After talking to two different attorneys, Weldon forbade the banners.
Cheerleaders and their parents sued Kountze in state district court, backed by the Liberty Institute, a Religious Right legal group. Judge Steven Thomas lifted Weldon’s ban for the rest of the football season, pending a trial.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened in the suit on behalf of the cheerleaders. 
Superintendent Weldon personally sympathizes with the cheerleaders’ cause, but he means to obey the law.

Community members have harassed him, but he has not stood entirely alone.

According to the N.Y. Times, the recently-formed Concerned East Texans for Separation of Church and State delivered to his office a gift basket with coffee, chocolates, and a thank-you card.

An essay honoring him appeared in the Texas School Administrators Legal Digest Online.
A few brave people held placards for church-state separation at a Kountze High School football game.

The case is Matthews v. Kountze

Florida Voters Nix Vouchers

In November, Florida voters turned down a state constitutional amendment to allow tax-raised funds for religious schools.

By a margin of 55.5% to 44.55%, they preserved this provision:

“No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

They rejected a replacement article forbidding state refusal of funds to any person or entity on the basis of religious identity or belief.

The proposed amendment bore the misleading title, Religious Freedom.

To pass, a Florida constitutional amendment needs a 60% majority.

Voucher Suits from All Over

Vouchers Via Bogus Charter School

The Douglas County, Colorado school board established its own voucher plan.

First, it created a bogus charter school: a single district employee in an office.

The fake charter school enrolled children already accepted at private schools and then delegated their education to the private schools. Practically all of the private schools advanced religion throughout their programs.

The charter school then sent tuition checks to the private schools. Officials made out the checks to parents, but nobody could cash them, until the parents endorsed them to the private schools.
Each check paid 75% of the state funds allotted to the district for the child’s education. The district kept the other 25%.

County resident James LaRue sued, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In August 2011, Colorado District Judge Michael Martinez struck down the scheme.

He ruled that the vouchers violated five different provisions of the Colorado constitution, as well as two statutes.

Martinez halted the program days before the first voucher students were to enter private schools.
The county had already sent tuition payments to the private schools. As of April 2012, the county still hadn’t got all the tuition money back.

The district appealed. The Walton Family Foundation, a Religious Right group, and the The Daniels Fund, a voucher advocacy group, are paying the district’s legal bills.

In November 2012, the Colorado Court of Appeals, a mid-level appeals court, heard arguments.
EdNews Colorado described the debate.

Judge Jerry Jones noted that the so-called charter school giving out the vouchers had no buildings, teachers or textbooks
He asked the district’s lawyer, Eric Hall, “Well, there isn’t a building…in what sense is it a school?’
“It was used by the district as an administrative convenience, we’ve always said that,” replied Hall.
Judge Steven Bernard followed up, “If it’s not a school, why call it that?”

Judge Dennis Graham asked whether the plan, which would send county students to both religious and non-religious private schools wasn’t therefore neutral.

Hall said it “neither favors nor disfavors any private schools.” All the private schools must sign the same contract and abide by the same conditions.

LaRue’s attorney, Matt Douglas, disagreed. He said the participating schools were allowed to reject students who didn’t meet their entrance requirements and students had to take part in the schools’ religious programs.

The case is LaRue V. Colorado.


Challenge to New Hampshire Tax Credit

In June 2012, the New Hampshire legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass a tuition tax credit law similar to the N.Y. State bill described on p. 1.

Under the act, a business that donates money to a tuition scholarship organization may credit 85% of the donation against its state income tax BILL.

The scholarship organizations, usually religious, pass on the cash as tuition to nonpublic, usually religious schools.

In effect, the state directs the income tax payments of donors to religious schools.

In January 2013, eight New Hampshire residents, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State challenged the act as a violation of the state constitution.
Part 1, Art. 6 of the state constitution says,“No person shall be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.”

Part II, Art. 83 says, “No money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”

The case is Duncan v. New Hampshire.


Judge Nixes Raid on School Fund

In November, Louisiana District Judge Tim Kelley struck down a state voucher act because it pays nonpublic schools with funds dedicated for public schools by the state constitution.

The Louisiana constitution names the dedicated fund the “Minimum Foundation Program” (MFP).
The state appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the voucher program will continue at least until that court rules.

Even if the Louisiana Supreme Court agrees with Judge Kelley, the legislature may find other ways to pay for the vouchers.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), and the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) challenged the act.

The case is LFT v. Louisiana.


School Boards: AZ Act May Harm Disabled Kids

The Arizona Education Empowerment Act (EEA) grants cash for disabled youngsters to buy lessons at private schools, including religious ones.

To get grants, parents must waive their children’s Arizona constitutional right to a public education.
In 2011, public school groups and a parent sued to overturn the EEA.

In October 2012, The National School Boards Association (NSBA) submitted a brief highlighting the potential harm to a disabled child whose parents have waived the right to a public education.

The brief says, 

“Under the Arizona Program the child would be affirmatively barred from returning to a public school regardless of whether the parent, subsequent to the acceptance of the voucher, was to realize that the private school no longer served the interest of his/her child, or to discover fraud, misrepresentation or even unintentional misinformation about the educational services or the quality of education.…”

Under the EEA, parents who home school or otherwise hold down education costs may pay for college with the saved dollars.

The Arizona Constitution says, “No tax shall be laid for the appropriation of public money made in aid of any…private or sectarian school.…and “No money…shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious…instruction.”

In January 2012, an Arizona county court upheld the EEA, on the ground that money reaches the religious schools indirectly, after passing through the parents’ hands.

The plaintiffs have appealed.

The case is Niehaus v. Huppenthal.