Case Could End Religious Scholarship Donations

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WASHINGTON - The United States Supreme will soon decide whether a tax credit program in Arizona that often provides scholarships for students to attend Christian schools can continue.

Wednesday, the high court seemed divided over the school choice program.

For 13 years, Arizona has allowed residents to receive up to a $500 tax credit to send to a tuition scholarship organization of their choice.

But, the American Civil Liberties Union and its allies says most of the money goes to groups that award scholarships based on religion or require students attend a religious school.

Because of that, the ACLU challenged the program as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government.

"It's unconstitutional to distribute government benefits on the basis of religion," said University of Arizona law professor Paul Bender.

"This is a program that allows for the funding of very specifically religious schools, often discriminatory schools," said Barry Lynn of Americans for the Separation of Church and State.

Supporters of the Arizona program unfurled a long banner before the Supreme Court, Wednesday, showing the thousands of students helped by the program's scholarships.

David Cortman, lead attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund representing the program, argued that ending the initiative could harm the cause of school choice.

"This program is important to the millions of Americans who support school choice across the country," he said. "And Arizona is trying to increase their scores by giving parents a choice whether they want to go to public schools, charter schools or private schools, and this is just another prong in that."

Religious rights attorney Kelly Shackelford told CBN News a ruling that says such donations are unconstitutional could someday kill off tax breaks for charitable donations to anything religious.

"Giving to churches would be unconstitutional because 'the government's money' would be going to the church. And so their argument is incredible in the idea of them thinking the government owns all of our money," she explained. "The result would be incredible in that it would strike down giving to any religious organization or church."

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.