Comments on the Supreme Court’s tuition tax credit decision

by David Safier

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, which questioned the constitutionality of tuition tax credits because much of the money pays for tuition at religious schools. As I understand it, the conservative majority said, if these were vouchers from state funds that would be one thing, but since they're pre-tax contributions — which happen to be 100% refunded at tax time, meaning they come out of state funds anyway — the people pressing the suit have no standing.

I'm not a lawyer, but many people who know better than I call that a ridiculous standard. According to an essay on the Religion Dispatches website, Justice Elena Kagan took the conservative Justices' argument apart, writing, "Taxpayers experience the same injury, whether government subsidization of religion takes the form of a cash grant or a tax measure.”

“Assume,” she wrote, that a given state wishes to “subsidize the ownership of crucifixes…It could purchase them in bulk and distribute them; it could reimburse buyers with a check; or it could pay with a tax credit. Now, really—do taxpayers have less reason to complain if the state selects the last of these three options?”

The writer makes a good culture wars point:

I imagine the public could have gotten exercised if this case had involved state tax credits in support of a radical madrasa or a network of Wiccan schools. But this case merely involves upstanding American families wanting their kids to have a fine Christian education—so how bad can it be?

I'm still waiting to hear about a private school, religious or not, which condones racism or anti-semitism or anti-Christian ideas or violence against the government requesting a backdoor voucher tuition scholarship from an STO. I can't see a legal reason why the request shouldn't be honored under the current laws. Would Senators Steve Yarbrough and Russell Pearce have a problem with that?

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