Calif. High Court Upholds Church-School Bonds

California’s Supreme Court has paved the way for religious schools to receive tax-exempt government bonds to help with construction.

By a 4-3 vote, the state’s high court said issuing the bonds for the religious institutions would not violate a provision of the state constitution that prohibits state and local governments from granting anything "to support or sustain any school, college, university, hospital, or other institutions controlled by any … sectarian denomination."

The Los Angeles Times reported that the ruling would allow religious schools to save millions of dollars in building new facilities. The newspaper said the private schools that won the decision plan to use tax-exempt bonds to pay for classrooms, dormitories, athletic facilities or dinning halls.

The three dissenting judges concluded that the California Constitution "simply does not permit a public entity to act as a fundraiser for schools of this nature."

The majority, however, said that "the pertinent inquiry should center on the substance of the education provided by these three schools, not on their religious character. Therefore, whether the schools are pervasively sectarian (as the parties have assumed) is not a controlling factor in determining the validity of the bond funding program under our state Constitution."

According to the Times, the ruling sends the lawsuit back to a lower court to determine if the evangelical Christian schools’ curriculum is sufficiently secular to qualify for government-issued bonds. (California Statewide Communities Development Authority v. All Persons Interested In The Matter Of the Validity Of A Purchase Agreement)