The U.S, Supreme Court has ruled in favor of an Arizona school voucher program. Critics say it violates the Constitution by directing taxpayer funds to religious schools.
So, what did the court actually approve?
In a 5-4 ruling, justices expanded several long-standing precedents that citizens don’t have the legal standing to challenge taxes they don’t like simply because they’re taxpayers.
What does that have to do with Christian schools? Does the decision pour billions in federal money into private academies nationwide?
No, justices refused to hear this particular challenge of the Arizona law. They said the people suing don’t have any stake in the matter.
Not all the justices agreed — the vote was 5-4. In a strongly worded minority opinion, four justices maintained that since the case involved claims of a violation of religious freedoms, the Arizona plaintiffs didn’t need to demonstrate a specific personal injury.
However the majority decision, written on behalf of the five prevailing justices by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said the challenge could not proceed. They upheld existing law that requires a plaintiff to have a stake in any challenge. For example, just because you don’t like the color orange, you cannot sue the government for painting stripes on the highway orange – not without showing that you’ve suffered harm by the government having painted items orange.
Thus, whatever merits or unconstitutionality that might exist were not debated. The Court did not declare that vouchers are legal and should be instituted in every school district in America. Instead, they said the Arizona voucher law would remain unchallenged since its opponents couldn’t show they were harmed.
Arizona’s law allows parents to take a $500 credit on their state taxes if they send their child to a private school.
Opponents of the program filed suit, claiming such a tax credit violates the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing any religion in the United States or prohibiting the free practice thereof.
Attorneys defending the program said the law only allows taxpayers to avoid paying $500 in state taxes if they spend $500 sending their own child to a private school. Thus, the plaintiffs had no interest in the matter – their money is not involved.
If there is a precedent set, it would be that opponents don’t get special treatment just because a First Amendment issue is in dispute.
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