Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Church and State

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Arizona’s tax credit for sending children to religious schools by saying that the people who sued the state had no standing to do so.

The program itself is novel and complicated, and allowing it to go forward may be of no particular moment. But by closing the courthouse door to some kinds of suits that claim violations of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, the court’s ruling in the case may be quite consequential.

Justice Elena Kagan, in her first dissent, said the majority had laid waste to the doctrine of “taxpayer standing,” which allows suits from people who object to having tax money spent on religious matters. “The court’s opinion,” Justice Kagan wrote, “offers a road map — more truly, just a one-step instruction — to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge.”

The decision divided the court along the usual ideological lines, with the three other more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor — joining the dissent.

The Arizona program gives taxpayers there a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to private “student tuition organizations.” The organizations are permitted to limit the scholarships they offer to schools of a given religion, and many of them do.

It’s ironic that there are people who will go to great extremes to prevent even one penny of tax dollars from getting within a mile of clinic that offers women advice on their reproductive rights for fear that it might even mention that there are alternatives to being pregnant. But when it comes to religion — and most often only a certain one — they find loopholes through which to funnel tax dollars to pay to for it.

As much as the anti-choice people dislike the idea of paying for an abortion with tax dollars, I dislike the idea of my tax dollars going to promote superstition and mythology. By that logic, Universal Orlando should get a tax credit for “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”