ACLU Asks Court to Uphold Ruling against Vouchers for Religious Colleges

News Release: 
Monday, June 11, 2001

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Washington Supreme Court today to uphold a 1999 ruling by the Thurston County Superior Court which said that state-funding of students to attend religion-affiliated schools violates the Washington Constitution.  A Washington taxpayer and a longtime professor at Washington State University filed the case, Gallwey v. Grimm.

In arguments before the Washington Supreme Court today, the ACLU claims that since 1990 the Washington legislature has unlawfully provided state tax dollars to students to attend religious schools  -- schools where attendance at chapel services and religious classes are required and where preference in hiring goes to members of their own faith.

“Government funds should not be used to subsidize schools with a religious mission.  The state should use government money instead to provide educational opportunities for students to attend its public colleges and universities,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.

In 1990 the state legislature passed the Educational Opportunities Grant program, which awards cash grants to students who attend colleges close to home, including nine schools with religious affiliations.  Among schools receiving support under the program are ones which give preference to members of a specific church in hiring staff, require students to take classes in scripture and religious doctrine, require students regularly to attend chapel services, and expect professors to resign if they cannot accept church beliefs.

In May, 1999, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel Berschauer ruled that it is impermissible for state government money to go to students attending religious schools.  The ACLU contends the grants violate the Washington Constitution (Article I, Section 11):

“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.” 

and (Article IX, Section 4):

"All schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence."

The decision followed a long line of precedents in similar cases, including the 1973 state Supreme Court ruling in Weiss v. Bruno, (82 Wn. 2d 199).  In that ruling, the court found unconstitutional the legislation that authorized use of public funds for tuition at private parochial schools (grades 1-12) and tuition supplement grants to students attending private religious schools of higher education.  In several other cases, the court also has concluded that it does not matter whether the funding goes to the school directly or is channeled through students attending it.

"The state cannot use government money to support religious institutions.  Giving people taxpayer-funded vouchers to write checks to religion-affiliated schools violates the constitution's separation of religion and government," said the ACLU's Kathleen Taylor.

Cooperating attorney Jay Brown and staff attorney Aaron Caplan are handling the case for the ACLU-WA.

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