Catholics, Orthodox Jews Seek Tax Subsidies For Religious Education

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined forces with two Orth­odox Jewish groups to demand taxpayer support of private religious education.

The bishops teamed up with the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union on the Oct. 25 statement. Although Orthodox Jews and the Catholic hierarchy have pushed for tax aid for years, this was their first joint statement.

The statement reads in part, “We have committed ourselves and our institutions to creating educational environments that strive to imbue in our children the highest moral values, a depth of knowledge, and a proficiency in skills enabling them to support themselves and their families, and to benefit society at large.

“Many Catholic and Jewish parents are committed to providing their children with this education, and struggle mightily to do so,” it continued. “Others, in­cluding those who may not be members of our faith communities, wish to send their children to schools where they can receive the best possible education, but cannot afford the cost. We join together to call upon our elected and appointed officials to implement policies which will empower all parents to choose schools for their children which they believe best serve each child’s own individual, educational needs.”

Opponents point out that sectarian schools serve unique religious interests and, unlike public schools, remain unaccountable to the taxpayers. Many of the schools, especially those run by fundamentalist Protestants, infuse all aspects of the curriculum with dogma and even controversial social policies. They are also broadly free to deny admission to children or expel them.

Proponents of church-state separation say it is up to the sponsoring religious denominations to pay for their own schools. They assert that requiring the taxpayers to subsidize sectarian education is a form of church tax.

Most major Jewish organizations in America oppose tax aid to religious education. Some Orthodox Jewish groups are exceptions.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of private school vouchers in 2002, but advocates have seen little momentum since then.

In other news about tax aid to religious schools:

• The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of a case from Maine that sought to force local education officials to provide tax support for private religious schools.

Without comment Nov. 27, the high court declined to hear Anderson v. Durham School Department. The legal challenge concerned a Maine law that allows some parents living in rural areas that lack public high schools to send their children to private, non-sectarian institutions at state expense. Citing church-state separation concerns, Maine legislators excluded religious schools from the plan.

A handful of Maine parents, backed by the pro-voucher Institute for Justice, challenged the law, asserting that it discriminated against religion. Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, ruling in April that state officials had a valid interest in protecting the separation of church and state.

Americans United and allied groups intervened in the case, representing Maine taxpayers who oppose government funding of religion.