Jonathan Wolfman's Blog
JANUARY 22, 2013 7:23AM

Your Taxes Support Religious Bigotry, Demonizing Kids...IF

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3D Golden Framed Equality Symbol  Stock Photo #1394837

     Should states support with your tax dollars private schools that discriminate against children on the basis of gender-orientation?

     If you pay taxes in Georgia and in ten other states, your taxes are doing that.
     First, some context.
     In 1983 (after a number of suits and lower court rulings extending back years), in Bob Jones University v. United States, the Court held nearly unanimously that the First Amendment's religion clauses do not prevent the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax-exempt status of a religious university whose policies and practice are contrary to a compelling societal interest. In Bob Jones, the compelling interest was racial equality. (The IRS had not, before the 1970s, held universities to account in this way.)
     Prior to 1971 BJU refused to admit Black applicants; for the next four years it would admit only married Black students. After 1975 BJU admitted Black students only if they had not married interracially and expelled those who were found to be part of an interracial couple and/or who advocated interracial marriage/dating. The university argued that it had a First Amendment-based religious right both to continue these policies and continue to have its donors receive federal tax deductions for their contributions. The South Carolina university, in other words, argued that tax dollars should support racial discrimination.
     When you make a tax-deductible gift to a private institution, say, a private school or university, the rest of us effectively compensate for that revenue-lost to the government with our tax payments. That's true for every tax-deductible contribution. The good news is that there are not many instances in which our charitable donations raise serious, racially charged constitutional issues. In Bob Jones, however, the Court said that you and I were, in essence, subsidizing Bob Jones' racial discrimination and that because racial equality is a compelling societal interest, BJU could no longer, if it chose to continue to discriminate, take your tax dollars to do it. Bob Jones University chose to continue to discriminate and lose its tax-exempt status until the late 1980s when BJU President, Bob Jones III, defended the university's racism in an interview with Larry King. The backlash was severe and the school changed its policies.
     What's important to understand is that the Court ruled that what BJU was doing must be held to a heightened level of judicial scrutiny because racial equality was and is, quite simply, that important a societal goal and government interest. The society's interest in racial equality, the Court said, substantially outweighed the burden the university would incur if it could no longer receive tax-deductible contributions.
Racial equality trumped the school's right to discriminate (and at the same time receive tax-exempt contributions) even if that discrimination was based on a sincerely held religious belief. The Court made clear too, that its holding applied to schools and not necessarily to churches.
     The Court, however, has not yet ruled that ending discrimination against LGBT individuals is important enough a societal interest to hold gender-based discrimination to a similarly heightened level of judicial scrutiny so as to invalidate your taxes being used to subsidize private schools' discrimination against LGBT students. It should. Perhaps the rulings later this term on marriage rights will help pave a path to an equal level of scrutiny.
     Here's what's happening, right now, with your tax dollars in eleven states.
Today, in Georgia and in ten other states, programs have been set up, some as early as the late 1990s, to fund scholarships of roughly $4,000 each to private religious schools. Numbers of them discriminate openly against LGBT children and families. Kim Severson in Monday's New York Times reports that, for example, at one private school not far from Atlanta, a school receiving tax funds from all Georgians, will expel a student for:
. what it calls "homosexual behavior"; and/or
. an "identifying statement" (for example, "I think I may be gay; I'm not sure.").
Another Georgia private school receiving tax money will boot a child if:
. s/he identifies as gay or lesbian, and/or
. is seen "as supporting" a friend who is said to be a gay or a lesbian individual.
     There are 115 such religious schools in Georgia now receiving tax dollars to offset scholarship/tax credit grant monies.
In Pennsylvania a teacher at a private Christian school was cashiered when her son came out on his Facebook page. The school settled with the teacher rather than face court action.
Some of these schools' policies state that a child will be thrown out if s/he has gay or lesbian parents or guardians.
     Georgia believes its program is legal because the tuition money does not go directly from state tax coffers to families or to schools but through foundations which then hand the state-subsidized tuitions to the religious schools directly. In Georgia, $170 million in state taxes has gone to these religious schools by way of these foundations since 2008.
     Yet think: if this public money were being sent to public schools and the public school boards chose to discriminate as to race or as to gender-orientation, the courts would fast shut the scheme down. And realize, too, that it's not enough to say that LGBT kids/families could easily ignore these schools. There are more interests here than those of individual students (some of whom, in fact, may have only one of these schools as an alternative to an otherwise unsafe public school environment).
     The justice-interests here are individual and societal.
     Proponents of these dodges claim they're constitutional because all kinds of religious schools are eligible for the state funding. But that hardly anwers the fundamental issue.
     Your taxes ought never support bigotry cloaked in religion regardless of your money's route from your state treasury to religious school bank accounts. Your taxes ought never support, in the name of religion, any discrimination against and demonization of racial minorities or LGBT kids. The law must, and soon, catch up.
You may wish to find out if your state taxes are being used this way.

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Thanks for this explanation JW. If public schools or private businesses can't discriminate, it's hard to see how private schools through a foundation sleight-of-hand should be able to do so. And I have little sympathy for organizations, usually religious, who in effect argue that their long-standing tradition of bigotry deserves respect.
What's the point of having a private school if they can't enforce their own regulations? If any parent could afford it they would always send their kids to private schools but since the teachers union in every state has caused a war on vouchers most parents can't manage it. Don't you think private schools have a "compelling reason" (another Supreme Court code word) to require their students to act in a certain way. Can Yeshiva University require all it's students to study Gemara ? What social good will that do?
Most private schools are funded by private donations. Following you reasoning all tax dollars, not matter what are given to priate schools for the sole purpose of descriminating. Should I, as a Jew, get into a catholic seminary, couldn't I require them to teach that the virgin bith ir nonsence and anti semitism started in the church?
In not, why? Don't they have a "compelling interest" not to insult me as their student who just doesn't happen to hold their values.
This could go on forever. However your sexual orientation should not be something the government should get involved in. This is like someone joining a black supremacist church and then claiming it doesn't teach the right things. (Oh right,....Obama never made that claim).
Arthur You know very well that I wouldn't give a damn what regs any private religious school wants to have as long as the school accepts no tax money under any circumstances.

Of course private religious schools have the right to discriminte via its rules; just not on taxpayers' dimes.

Arthur you were an atty: you know that's the sole issue here.
So far as I know no schools in Va, public or private, have policies or obvious practices of discriminating against the LGBT community. It's possible some church-run schools do, but if so no one has made it an issue.
One of Georgia's traditional biases serves to foment the other, religious-freedom one. The politicians in this state are masters of this kind of illusionary tactic. The foundation pass-through is another well-used method of skirting the law. No tax money should go to any school that pulls these stunts.

But, to not allow that would be to put religious versus non-religious education at something of a disadvantage, would it not?
There is one difference between race and sexual orientation worth considering too: identification or no.
It's one thing to say that people do or do not have a choice in such things, unlikely to be completely the case in my view, if that doesn't tell the whole story either in my view, as to 'flexibility."
It's another thing to say that one's preference is knowable, absent definite statement, although many think they infer such things, often not correctly however, or lacking nuances too. Race is not a matter of identification in that sense, as it is observable most definitely, and sexual orientation or what you will is not observable in and of itself.
Matt that's likely bc those schools receive no tax monies.
Don the issue here is abt public money funding private, religious discrimination.
I am really sick of these backward people. Sorry, Jon, but I don't blame the states or the Feds; I blame the people. We still have some of the most ignorant citizens on the planet, and it is all because some twisted and spun religion. R
Those numbers make me feel oh so un at ease...
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