ACLU and Americans United Challenge New Hampshire State Funding of Religious Schools

January 9, 2013 11:49 am

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Organizations Say Tuition Tax-Credit Program Violates New Hampshire Constitution

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Stafford County, N.H. – A statewide tuition tax-credit program that would divert taxpayer funds to private religious schools in violation of the state constitution was challenged in a New Hampshire court today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New Hampshire and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs, including clergy, public education advocates and parents of public school children.

The Education Tax Credit Program allows businesses to reduce their tax liability by receiving an 85 percent tax credit in exchange for donations made to K-12 scholarship organizations, which will pay for tuition at religious and other private schools. Since there is no state oversight of the schools receiving funds, religious schools will be able to use the donations for religious instruction, indoctrination and religiously based discrimination.

“A robust respect for the separation of church and state is vital to protecting the religious freedom of all New Hampshire citizens,” said Barbara R. Keshen, staff attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. “That’s why our state constitution contains several provisions intended to prevent this type of program.”

The program, passed by the New Hampshire Legislature last year, took effect Jan. 1. It allows up to $3.4 million in tax credits to be claimed in the first year and $5.1 million during its second year. It provides for additional increases in tax credits in subsequent years.

“The New Hampshire program is similar to other troubling tax-credit programs proposed across the country,” said Heather L. Weaver, staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “These programs cannot be allowed to stand because they erode bedrock religious liberty principles.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the tax-credit program unlawful and block the state from further implementation.

“This is just a backdoor voucher scheme,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Whether it’s through a traditional voucher or a tax credit, the result is the same: Taxpayers are subsidizing religious instruction.”

“This program is an attempt to circumvent the law, and it is doomed to fail,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United and lead counsel in the case. “The New Hampshire Constitution plainly bars this cockamamie scheme.”

The plaintiffs in the case include public education advocate Bill Duncan, United Church of Christ minister Richard Stuart, retired public school librarian Ruth Stuart, state legislator Rebecca Emerson, public school teacher Charles Rhoades and retired Unitarian Universalist minister Homer Goddard.

In addition to Luchenitser, Keshen and Weaver, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs include Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Steven Gey, fellow; Randall Maas; and ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief Director Daniel Mach.

More information about this case can be found here:

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