Law Said to Favor Religious Schools

November 2, 2010; Source: ABC News | Arizona is developing quite a reputation for laws that polarize. First was the “papers please” law allowing police to stop and question suspected illegal immigrants, which a federal judge last summer blocked the state from enforcing. Then there was a 2004 law, recently struck down, requiring residents to prove their U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote in federal elections.

Now, this week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about a state law that allows residents to receive tax credits for donations to intermediary nonprofits, which in turn, award scholarships that allow parents to send their children to private schools. At issue isn’t whether public money can be applied to private education. Instead, it appears most School Tuition Organizations (STOs) that receive the donations primarily hand out scholarships to religious schools. Opponents say the law violates the Constitution because it allows the state to effectively funnel money to religious schools via a type of front organization.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Arizona taxpayers, argue the law should be struck down because “the majority of state aid is given on the basis of religion to relatively very few students, most of whom are chosen by religious organizations.” Proponents say the law should be upheld because the state is not involved in deciding—or directing—where parents send their children to school. Before the Court can hear arguments on the case, however, it first will decide if taxpayers have a right to bring suit against the state.—Bruce Trachtenberg