ACLU Files Federal Lawsuit Against County Grant to Catholic School in CA

April 29, 1999 12:00 am

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Thursday, April 29, 1999

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today filed a federal lawsuit charging that a county grant to a Catholic school here is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court, alleges that a grant of $2,500 by San Luis Obispo County to the Mission College Catholic Preparatory High School violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution and Article IX and Article XVI of the California Constitution, which prohibit government funding of sectarian schools and institutions.

Hank Alberts, the President of the ACLU’s San Luis Obispo County Chapter, had delivered a letter to all members of the of the County Board of Supervisors and to the County Counsel. That letter stated that the ACLU objected to the allocation of funds to Mission Catholic Prep, and that, in the opinion of the ACLU, the grant was unconstitutional.

On Tuesday April 27, Mr. Alberts addressed the Board of Supervisors and again explained the ACLU’s opposition to allocating County funds to Mission Catholic Prep. After briefly discussing the issue, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to approve the grant. One board member was not present, and one recused himself on the ground that he had children who attended Mission Catholic Prep.

Mission College Catholic Preparatory High School offers classes in performing arts and the school’s religious mission is emphasized in its drama program. The school’s catalogue states that “Mission College Prep has a unique opportunity to become a center for student participation in the Arts, to re-develop the ‘Renaissance Person’ in an atmosphere imitative of God’s creative beauty.”

“Providing money to a religious school so it can put on a play improperly breaches the separation of church and state guaranteed by the U.S. and California constitutions,” said ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg. “The California Constitution contains an explicit provision forbidding government from giving money to sectarian schools.”

Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California, said that the ACLU has long believed that the line between church and state must be kept clear.

“Making this kind of gift of public funds directly to a sectarian institution should cause great concern to all who believe in the keeping the government out of the business of endorsing religious institutions,” she said.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of local residents Isaac Rudyard Stone and Dominic Perello. The case has been assigned to The Honorable Stephen V. Wilson.

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