Jewish groups (predictably) divided on Supreme Court religious school funding decision

The ADL is criticizing and the Orthodox Union is praising today’s Supreme Court decision in a key church-state case, Arizona Christian Tuition Organization v. Winn. That decision, analysts say, could make it harder for taxpayers to oppose public funding for parochial schools on church-state grounds.

The case involved an Arizona law that allows taxpayers to take 100 percent tax credits for donations to “school tuition organizations” – groups that provide funding to religious and other private schools.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that those challenging the law – including the American Civil Liberties Union – lacked standing to bring the case in the first place.

Justice Elena Kagen, in dissenting, said the ruling “threatens to eliminate all occasions for a taxpayer to contest the government’s monetary support of religion."

The Anti-Defamation League agreed; in a statement, the group’s leaders said “[t]he distinction the court drew in this case between tax credits and treasury expenditures is illogical and misguided. However, what is more disturbing about the ruling is that the Supreme Court has dramatically undercut the ability of taxpayers to protect religion and government by intervening when government money is improperly spent. This is a very significant setback for religious liberty in America.”

The ADL filed a brief in the case along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Not surprisingly the Orthodox Union, which participated in a brief in support of the program, praised the decision.

“The principles of government respect for private choices in education and government neutrality in programs which can aid and support such private choices is a critical issue for the Orthodox Jewish community and other American faith communities,” said Nathan Diament, the OU director of public policy.

Several leading Jewish church-state separation advocates said they wouldn’t comment until they assess just how sweeping today’s ruling might be.

And the parochial school funding beat goes on.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.