Georgia high court protects scholarships for low-income children Ends challenge to program for schoolchildren in need
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
This morning the Georgia Supreme Court protected low-income schoolchildren and their scholarship program from a challenge that used a discriminatory 19th century law called the Blaine Amendment. The decision allows students to receive the best education for their needs, regardless of the school they choose.
Georgia’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program was created to help Georgia schoolchildren—particularly low-income students—get a quality education. However, several challengers sued to shut down the program, arguing that students on scholarships may choose to attend religious schools. The challengers claimed these tax credits amounted to state money for religious education. Today, the court rejected the attack on the program, stating, “When the state refunds money for overpayment of taxes, it is not remitting public funds but is returning the taxpayer’s own money.”
“Disgruntled taxpayers do not have the right to deprive children of a quality education,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the scholarship program. “Thanks to the court, schoolchildren who rightfully earn scholarships have the right to choose their own futures.”
Under the program, Georgia taxpayers can donate to scholarship organizations and receive a credit on their state taxes. But some challengers used the state’s Blaine Amendment, a 19th century law rooted in anti-religious bigotry, to try and shut down the scholarship program. Blaine Amendments were passed during a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry during the 1870’s and were designed to keep Catholic organizations—including orphanages, schools and charities—from having access to public funds, during a time when public schools used Protestant prayers, lessons and Bible readings. Today, those laws are being used against any school that is “too religious.”
“This law has been discriminating against religious schools, charities, and children for centuries. It’s time to end Blaine’s baneful existence,” said Windham.
Last year, a lower court dismissed the case, but the challengers appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled to protect the program. Late last year, Becket urged the court to protect both the children and the religious schools they attend from discrimination.
A similar lawsuit in Oklahoma aimed at preventing special-needs kids from using a scholarship to help them attend a school—secular or religious—was defeated in February of last year (watch video).
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).