Supreme Court Upholds State Religious Liberty Provisions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 25, 2004

Contact: Nathan Richter or Laurie Boeder at PFAW Foundation

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Decision in Davey Case has Broad Consequences for Church/State Separation

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a 7-2 decision that state governments are not obligated to fund religious instruction under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision has profound implications for the future of public education in America, and even broader consequences for the separation of church and state and religious freedoms.

“We are very pleased by the Court’s decision,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF). “No state should be compelled by the federal government to fund religious instruction. Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed this principle and in the process, strengthened the foundation of religious liberty.”

PFAWF filed an amicus curiae brief in the case to argue that the state should not be required to spend public money to fund private religious education and thus to protect the separation of church and state.

The court was asked to decide whether the state of Washington should have been required to grant a student a state-funded college scholarship, even though the student was training to become a minister. The state based its decision not to grant him a scholarship on a Washington state constitutional provision that reads: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.”

Washington is just one of 37 states that have provisions in their state constitution prohibiting public funding of religious schools and upholding the separation of church and state. Many of these provisions have language that is stronger and clearer than the protections found in the U.S. Constitution.

“Advocates of private school vouchers view these state religious liberty protections as an obstacle to implementing voucher programs in the states,” said Elliot Mincberg, legal director at PFAWF. “For this reason, they have been quick to attack these state protections and saw the Davey case as an opportunity to invalidate these provisions at the federal level. We are very pleased that the Court rejected that attack in this case.”

PFAWF is challenging voucher laws in Florida and Colorado largely on the premise that they violate their constitutions’ religious liberty protections by diverting public tax dollars to religious schools.