pencils_newWritten by Don Byrd

The Baptist Joint Committee opposes school voucher programs for the threat they pose to religious liberty. Recently, the BJC and other civil and religious organizations filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging such a program in Colorado. Colorado’s state constitution contains one of the strongest protections against government funding of religion in the country, according to K. Hollyn Hollman, BJC General Counsel.

In the June 2014 issue of Report From the Capital, Hollman explains the brief’s argument:

The program at issue (known as the “Choice Scholarship Program”) operates in Douglas County, providing tuition vouchers to 500 students that can be spent at private schools. More than 75 percent of the private schools participating in the program are religious schools, which can then use those taxpayer dollars for a variety of religious activities, including religious instruction.

The BJC’s brief in the Colorado Supreme Court recounts theological and political opposition to the state funding of religion and presents the historical background and current implementation of the “no aid” clause promoting religious liberty in Colorado. The brief states that the provision is an “expression of both the philosophical and political traditions of freedom of conscience” and a way religious freedom is currently protected. “In drafting and adopting this strict No-Aid Clause, the delegates to Colorado’s constitutional convention expressly sought to promote religious freedom and protect the public schools and the public-school fund by imposing an absolute prohibition against the use of public dollars for religious instruction,” according to the brief.

The case, LaRue v. Colorado Board of Education, reflects a second stage in religious liberty litigation over vouchers. While the U.S. Supreme Court found that a school voucher program . . . did not violate the First Amendment in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), this case — like other challenges in the courts — is based specifically on a state constitution’s “no aid” clause.

You can read the brief here.