WASHINGTON—Funneling taxpayer funds to religious schools through a voucher program compromises religious liberty, according to a legal brief filed at the Nevada Supreme Court and joined by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
The Hindu American Foundation also joined the brief in the case of Duncan v. Nevada. The Nevada Supreme Court will hear oral arguments July 29, the same day it hears another case challenging the voucher program, Schwartz v. Lopez.
Nevada’s school voucher program allows public dollars to flow to private schools, including religious schools, by diverting money from the state’s designated public education fund.
When an eligible student applies for a voucher, money is transferred from the Distributive School Account into the Education Savings Account program, which can be used for certain education expenses, including tuition at private religious schools and religious instructional material for those schools. There are no restrictions on how the private schools may use the public funds after they receive them.
“Funding religious schools with taxpayer money can violate the consciences of citizens who disagree with their teachings,” said Jennifer Hawks, associate general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee. “Parents have the right to choose a religious education for their children but not the right to insist that taxpayers pay for it through any type of voucher program.”
The brief asserts religious liberty is threatened when the government gets involved with religion, noting the principle of separation between church and state “recognizes that governmental support for and funding of religion corrodes true belief, makes religious denominations and houses of worship beholden to the state, and places subtle—or not so subtle—coercive pressure on individuals and groups to conform.”
For centuries, Baptists have preached that genuine religious belief means people come to faith of their own free will, following the dictates of their consciences without coercion, BJC officials added.
The Nevada Constitution has a clause specifically prohibiting any public funds from being used “for sectarian purpose.” According to the brief, that No-Aid Clause is “an expression of both the philosophical and political traditions of freedom of conscience.”
That clause protects religious freedom and supports religious pluralism, the brief asserts, noting the success of religion in the United States is in part thanks to adherence to the idea that “individual congregations and worshippers are free to define for themselves the terms of belief and religious practice” without dependence on or interference from the government.