Almost one year after the high court’s landmark ruling that upholds school voucher programs, the US Supreme Court has said that it will consider whether or not taxpayers might be constitutionally required to subsidize religious education. While the court’s 5-4 ruling in June now allows states to fund religious education by stating that school voucher programs at both secular and religious schools do not violate the separation of church and state, this case will pose the question of whether states must also fund religious instruction if they provide scholarships for secular programs. The court is scheduled to hear the case this fall.
Known as Locke v. Davey, this new case reached the high court on appeal by the state of Washington – involving the use of state funds to support a student who sought a theology degree at a private Christian college. Following wording in the state’s constitution that prohibits the use of public funds for religious education, the state of Washington turned down the student’s application for a scholarship. Currently, in 37 state constitutions contain wording that prohibits financial support for religion.
A panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, generally considered a liberal court, overturned a district court ruling that sided with the state of Washington. The panel said that with the US Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, “blocking funds for a theology student discriminates against him based on his religious views,” according to USA Today. Jesse Choper, a UC Berkeley law professor who is an expert on religion and the US Constitution, told the LA Times that the “justices have not interpreted the guarantee of free exercise of religion as a guarantee of public support for religion, and it would be a big step if they did.” Such a ruling could also be applied to President Bush’s faith-based initiative, the Times noted.