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Is Taxpayer Support For Religious Schools Constitutionally Required?

In its last term, the United States Supreme Court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of publicly financed tuition vouchers for parochial school education. In effect the court said that if a public authority decided to include parochial schools in a program of general application, the
First Amendment’s requirement of separation between church and state did not prohibit it.

This past Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case for review presenting the flip side of the issue. That is, is a public authority barred by the First Amendment from discriminating against religious activity and required to include students studying religion in a general scholarship program?

The case involves the State of Washington’s rejection of an application for a state scholarship
submitted by a student who was otherwise eligible, on the ground that he was seeking a degree in theology. A provision of Washington’s state constitution bars such public aid.

This is one of those momentous cases that comes along every once in a very long while. On the one hand, there is the distinct possibility that the Court will affirm, at long last, that religious
activity must be treated financially by government on the same basis as non-religious activity. On the other hand, as many have pointed out, there are always strings that are attached to government largesse.

So while we certainly believe that religious education should not be discriminated against, and
would welcome a ruling to that effect, we are mindful that it would not be the end of the matter. We must also ensure that the fundamental independence of religious education from
government interference must be preserved as well.

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