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Ariz. tuition tax credit program still standing after 9th Circuit decision

Decision thwarts ACLU attempt to end tax credit program for individuals, but ADF attorneys may appeal bad portions of ruling
School Locker

PASADENA, Calif. — A program allowing Arizona residents to claim a tax credit for limited donations to organizations that provide scholarships to private schools is still standing after a ruling Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.  Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization in the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union attempted to end the program, but the court stopped short, saying that its constitutional concerns regarding the program are whether all scholarship tuition organizations should be forced to fund both religious and non-religious schools.  On that question, the court remanded the case back to district court to determine if the program is limiting parental choice.

“Parents should be able to choose the right school for their children, and they can through Arizona’s program,’” said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb.  “This program gives Arizonans a broad range of educational choices.  The law allows scholarship tuition organizations to be formed to fund any type of private schools, religious or non-religious.  Arizonans are free to route their contributions through whichever of these organizations they choose."

McCaleb explained that scholarship tuition organizations that fund only religious schools do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because they are private organizations that do not distribute any government money.  In addition, Arizonans are free to choose other scholarship tuition organizations that fund non-religious private schools if they prefer.  ADF attorneys are considering their options for appeal.

In 2005, a federal judge dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit, ruling that the “Tuition Tax Credit is a program of ‘true private choice’” that “does not provide taxpayers or students financial incentives which are skewed toward religious schools....  The Tuition Tax Credit is a neutral, secular program whose benefits are available to all Arizona taxpayers and students....  Arizona’s policy of maximizing the choices available to parents is a valid secular purpose.”

In March, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against the ACLU in a separate lawsuit, upholding a similar state program for corporate taxpayers.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.  Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.