Georgia high court to decide fate of scholarships serving low-income children

Challengers want to use anti-religious law to strip scholarships from needy children 

For Immediate Release:  January 23, 2017 
Media Contact:  Melinda Skea | media@becketlaw.org | 202-349-7224  

Photo Credit: Institute for Justice

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Moments ago the Georgia Supreme Court heard a case concerning low-income children whose scholarship program is being threatened by a discriminatory 19th century law. 

Georgia’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program was created to help Georgia schoolchildren—particularly low-income students—get a quality education. However, several taxpayers sued to shut down the program, arguing that students on scholarships may choose to attend religious schools. Last year, a lower court dismissed their case, but the taxpayers appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. Last month, Becket urged the court to protect both the children and the religious schools they attend from discrimination. 

“It would be a terrible mistake to use a bigoted law from the nineteenth century to prevent students from receiving a quality education,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket Law, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the scholarship program. “This discriminatory law should have been dead and buried a century ago. Instead, it’s still roving Georgia, trying to kill scholarships for needy kids.” 

Under the program, Georgia taxpayers can donate to scholarship organizations and receive a credit on their state taxes. Taxpayers are using the state’s Blaine Amendment, a 19th century law rooted in anti-religious bigotry, to try and shut down the scholarship program. Blaine Amendments were passed during a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry during the 1870’s and were designed to keep Catholic organizations—including orphanages, schools and charities—from having access to public funds. Yet public schools at the time used Protestant prayers, lessons and Bible readings. Today, those laws are being used against any school that is “too religious.”  

“Georgia voters have said they want to do what is best for children, especially low-income children. It would be terrible to let an old, bigoted law stand in the way of a child’s future,” said Windham.  

 A similar lawsuit in Oklahoma aimed at preventing special-needs kids from using a scholarship to help them attend a school—secular or religious—was defeated in February of last year (watch video). Last month, Becket Law filed an amicus brief to the Georgia Supreme Court defending schoolchildren and the schools they choose from discrimination.  

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. 

### 

Additional Information: 

Becket Law is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, includingBuddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).