Earlier this week, we learned that South Carolina would be giving away millions of dollars to fund, among other things, Christian indoctrination.
Gov. Henry McMaster announced a program called Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE), which offered families a one-time $6,500 grant for private education — including religious institutions — during the upcoming school year. The $32 million program was part of a $48 million discretionary spending account McMaster’s office received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
The concern here was that McMaster was steering taxpayer money away from public education and toward religious schools that lack any outside accountability and promotes ideas like Creationism and Christian revisionist history.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called it an “outrageous giveaway” and sent a letter to McMaster denouncing this idea. They listed four specific concerns: Using taxpayer money to fund religion, the lack of accountability, the damage it would do to public schools, and the potential for taxpayer-funded discrimination.
Religious education should not be subsidized with public money. There is no governmental oversight of private religious schools and no accountability to the taxpayers who are subsidizing them. Our public schools are pluralistic institutions where all students are welcome regardless of their background or religion. Voucher schools are heavily segregated on the basis of religion. Voucher schools have few barriers to prevent them from discriminating in hiring or student admissions on the basis of religion, sexual orientation or disability. Where public money goes, public accountability ought to follow.
This is a taxpayer boondoggle and injustice, and on behalf of concerned citizens, we urge you to reconsider and withdraw this misguided proposal.
Unfortunately, there may not be much for FFRF to do besides writing a letter. Given the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, this may be technically legal even if it’s highly unethical and a giant waste of funding.
There is a silver lining, though. Yesterday afternoon, after a lawsuit was filed alleging this program violates the state constitution, a district court judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing any disbursement of money via the SAFE program. The hold will last at least a week, until the plaintiff’s attorney makes this argument in court.
The question at hand will be if this program falls under that Supreme Court decision — and is therefore legal — or whether it’s different enough that further arguments need to be made in court.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Zach for the link)