The federal Constitution’s ban on public support of sectarian education under the Establishment Clause suffers from wrong-headed U.S. Supreme Court decisions – more about that later. The New Hampshire Constitution even more explicitly bars the transfer, directly or indirectly, of taxpayer money to religion-based institutions. The state attorney general’s office, however, seems to be confused by the bill.
State efforts to direct public funds to private schools, including religious schools, are being promoted nationally by school choice advocacy organizations. Their campaign gathered steam after a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that, by a 5-4 majority, ruled constitutional a Cleveland, Ohio, school voucher program that directed public money to religious schools. That decision was wrong, as Supreme Court Justice David Souter of New Hampshire wrote in the minority’s dissent.
“Religious teaching at taxpayer expense simply cannot be cordoned from taxpayer politics, and every major religion currently espouses social positions that provoke intense opposition. Not all taxpaying Protestant citizens, for example, will be content to underwrite the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church condemning the death penalty. Nor will all of America’s Muslims acquiesce in paying for the endorsement of the religious Zionism taught in many religious Jewish schools, which combines ‘a nationalistic sentiment’ in support of Israel with a ‘deeply religious’ element. Nor will every secular taxpayer be content to support Muslim views on differential treatment of the sexes, or, for that matter, to fund the espousal of a wife’s obligation of obedience to her husband, presumably taught in any schools adopting the articles of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention. Views like these, and innumerable others, have been safe in the sectarian pulpits and classrooms of this Nation not only because the Free Exercise Clause protects them directly, but because the ban on supporting religious establishment has protected free exercise, by keeping it relatively private. With the arrival of vouchers in religious schools, that privacy will go, and along with it will go confidence that religious disagreement will stay moderate.”
…[P]assage of SB 193 could bring about what Justice Souter feared, a society that mixed political debate with religious strife at the expense of its children’s education. Senators and Gov. Sununu: Reject this bill for the good of the state, the Constitution and public education.