By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
ACLU sues to stop Nevada's education savings accounts program
Group argues the program violates state constitution by allowing parents to choose religious schools with tax credits. - photo by Eric Schulzke
A new Nevada law that would create educational savings accounts that parents could use to mix and match educational needs has come under fire, with the ACLU filing a lawsuit alleging that parents who choose to use those funds to pay tuition at religious schools would be violating the state's Blaine Amendment.

Like most states, Nevada has a "Blaine Amendment," passed in 1877 amidst a wave of anti-Catholic sentiment that swept the country, Jay Bybee notes at the UNLV Law School website. Though phrased neutrally, aimed to disallow public funds from being used for "sectarian purposes," the Blaine amendments were targeted at Catholic schools and against a perceived Catholic threat.

"The education savings account law passed this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada's constitution," said Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, as reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Supporters "knew this bill violated the state constitution but proceeded with the scheme anyway," he said.

The ACLU is suing under the Nevada Constitution because the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that educational savings accounts, tax credits and even direct tuition vouchers are constitutional as long as they pass a neutrality test.

"To pass the test," the Deseret News noted earlier this year, "the program must have a legitimate secular purpose, offer aid directly to parents, cover a broad class of students, be neutral on religion, and there must be enough nonreligious options available for those who want them."

State courts in Arizona and elsewhere have held that savings accounts used to pay for religious schools do not violate their state's Blaine Amendment because parents decide what to do with the funds, rather than the state sending money directly to the school.

But some programs do seem to cross that line.

Earlier this year, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a voucher program put forward by the Douglas County schools, which seems to have created a tight link between religious schools, the school district and the parents seeking scholarships. Since nearly all of the scholarships awarded through his "pipeline" were to attend religious schools, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the program "essentially functions as a recruitment program, teaming with various religious schools" to seek scholarship candidates."
Sign up for our E-Newsletters