Archives for category: Religion

The Supreme Court of Colorado struck down the voucher program in Douglas County. It is unconstitutional, the justices said.

After a radical group won control of the public schools of Douglas County in Colorado, they enacted a plan for vouchers. Being a relatively affluent community, there was no baloney about “saving poor kids from failing schools.” The point was privatization of public funds intended for public schools.

Here is the story, as told by the nonpartisan group that brought the suit, called Taxpayers for Public Education.

Contact: Cindy Barnard

CO Supreme Court Strikes Down Vouchers

Douglas County Program Found to Violate State Constitution

“Denver, CO June 29, 2015) In a landmark legal decision today, the Colorado State Supreme Court struck down the Douglas County School District (DCSD) voucher program. In the case of Taxpayers for Public Education, et al., v. Douglas County School District, et al., the Court found that the program violates the Colorado Constitution.

“This is a great victory for public school children in Colorado,” said Cindy Barnard, President of Taxpayers for Public Education (TFPE), one of the plaintiffs in the case. “The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students. The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used- for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools.”

“In this groundbreaking case, Michael McCarthy and Colin Deihl of the Denver office of Faegre Baker Daniels represented Taxpayers for Public Education pro bono. Other plaintiffs and intervenors in the suit included children and parents of the Douglas County School District, Douglas County citizens and several local and national organizations that support a strong and vital public education system.

“As we celebrate this important victory, we have to continue to closely watch the leaders of the Douglas County School District as they look to implement other programs and methods to intentionally erode the quality of public education in their own district,” said Barnard.

“Details of the Court’s ruling can be found on the Taxpayer for Public Education website at ”


About Taxpayers for Public Education:
Taxpayers for Public Education, (TFPE), is a Colorado-based, bi-partisan, 501c4 organization. The members are Colorado taxpayers and parents of children enrolled in public schools. TFPE supports public education and believes that a strong public education system is instrumental in building and maintaining an extraordinary workforce that will keep American companies and American entrepreneurship viable and robust to meet the challenges in the years ahead.

For more information, please visit:


Cindy Barnard
President, Taxpayers for Public Education
(303) 905-3803

Anne Kleinkopf
Director, Taxpayers for Public Education
(720) 219-6253

Michael McCarthy
Attorney, Faegre Baker Daniels
(303) 607-3670

Mason Barnard

Plaintiff/Former Douglas County Student

(303) 518 – 7939


Michael Keegan, President of People for the American Way, sent out a letter today describing the ridiculous claims of far-right politicians about the Charleston massacre.


Keegan writes:


A horrific event like this — an attack on our people, our values, and our very way of life — should bring us together in mourning. And it should force us, as a country, to confront the uncomfortable truths about our history and our culture that erupt, too often, in devastating violence.


But no. We can’t have that full discussion. Because the powerful interests — and the political leaders beholden to them — that benefit from the status quo and from Americans being divided won’t let us.


What do I mean by that? Let’s have a look at the responses to this tragedy from the Republican candidates for president and other leading right-wing figures, which range from willfully ignorant to astonishingly delusional to crassly dishonest.


When asked if the shooting in Charleston was racially motivated, Jeb Bush said, “I don’t know.”
Lindsey Graham joined the right-wing media trend of trying to take the focus off race and advance the myth that this was really a hate crime against religious Christians, saying the shooter may have been “looking for Christians to kill.”
Rick Perry called the shooting an “accident,” that was possibly caused by the over-prescription of medication and that is being exploited by President Obama to try to “take the guns out of the hands of everyone in this country.”
Mike Huckabee joined a chorus of many on the Right in saying the shooting could have been prevented if only the church members were armed.
The American Family Association’s Sandy Rios said that President Obama “enjoys” such incidents because it will give him another chance to “remove guns from the hands of the American people.”
Right-wing talk show host Alex Jones linked the shooting to a socialist race war plot.
Far-right radio host Jesse Lee Peterson said simultaneously that the shooting was intended to start race war but that racism is not an issue in America today, and said that identifying racism is the real threat because white people are being made to feel guilty and fearful about being called racist, which will lead to built-up anger boiling over into more violent race-based attacks like the one in South Carolina.


He might have added to this list that a board member of the National Rifle Association blamed Reverend Clementa Pinckney for the massacre because, as a state legislator, he had opposed “conceal carry.” If the members of the church had been armed, they could have shot the killer. Thus, in his view, gun control causes gun violence. Everyone should be packed and ready to fire.


What a country that would be. Everyone armed and everyone on edge, wondering when the firing begins.







Ari Hart is an Orthodox Jew who disapproves of the actions taken by the Jewish-dominated school board in East Ramapo, Néw York.

In that district, the majority of the populace is Orthodox Jews, whose children attend yeshivas. Most students in the public schools are black and Hispanic. The school board takes good care of the yeshivas but it shortchanges the public schools.

Today, the state assembly passed a bill to install a state financial monitor for the district, to protect children in public schools.

Ari Hart chastises his co-religionists.

He writes:

“The board has drastically increased the funding going to yeshivas, but it has cut public school classes and extracurricular activities, attempting to sell public school assets at below market prices to private yeshivas, and more. These ethically and at times legally dubious actions have been documented by everyone from newspapers like this one to the New York City Bar Association to the New York State Supreme Court.”

Hart writes

“As an Orthodox Jew, when I first learned about what was happening in East Ramapo and about the attitudes of the board, I was shocked and disgusted. The Talmud teaches, “The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children.” The public actions of this school board over the years have been in flagrant violation of that and so many other Jewish values and teachings. The Torah we share demands over and over again we never trample the stranger, the immigrant and the poor — apt descriptions of many in the public school district. They have also caused a massive Chillul Hashem — desecration of God’s name. The leadership of the school board to date has grossly violated both American and Jewish values. This is not the way to use Jewish power in America.
Instead, we need to find a way to both advance our interests and needs while taking the needs of our fellow citizens into account; rather than just grabbing more and more slices of the pie and leaving those around us hungry, we work together to grow the pie so there is enough for all. This would be a moral use of Jewish power, using it to call out those who are acting unjustly, even when they are from our own community. That is why thousands and thousands of Jewish New Yorkers are lobbying their legislators to pass these bills, which will provide needed oversight. Ultimately, this is about those school children in East Ramapo, and it’s about the very legacy that Jewish New Yorkers will leave on this great state.”

Read more:

Arthur Camins, Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at the Stevens Institute of Technology, has a terrific letter to the editor in today’s Néw York Times.

He points out the paradox of choice.

“A look at the ways in which the idea of individual choice is applied by politicians to different issues is revealing. Some politicians want the public to pay for their private choices when it comes to vouchers for religious education, but are against choice when it comes to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have a baby.

“In both cases they are prepared to violate the basic constitutional principle of separation of church and state. In one case they want the public to pay for their religious choices. In the other they want to impose their religious views on everyone else.”

One question that I have puzzled over again and again is why anyone who really cares about the quality of education would be a proponent of school choice, for example, vouchers for religious schools and charters run as a business. We have an abundance of evidence that these choices don’t usually produce better education. Children from low-performing schools are not being sent with public money to Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, or Sidwell Friends. Instead, they are going to Backwoods Rural Evangelical Church or Mall Academy, which has few certified teachers, no curriculum, and teaches creationism; or they are going to Charter Schools, Inc., where profits matter more than education.


This article in Salon by Conor Lynch asserts that the GOP (and I would add, many Democrats who have been bamboozled as well) and corporate America (via ALEC) are complicit in the dumbing down of America. Some candidates, and he singles out Ted Cruz, willingly slander Harvard University (which he attended) as a haven for Communists (and I thought the days of McCarthyism were behind us) and ally themselves in opposition to the scientific evidence about climate change.


I have no beef with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they leave me alone to practice my own religion (or not). But when religion and politics are intermixed, it is not a healthy blend.


Lynch writes:


Ted Cruz has already made it quite clear that, although he went to Harvard, he is as anti-intellectual as they come; embracing conspiracy theories and comparing the climate change consensus to the theological consensus of the geocentric model during the time of Galileo. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to the entire idea of climate change, and was recently named to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Aside from promoting the conspiracy theory that Harvard law is a communist organization, he has promoted other conspiracies that are outright loony, like saying that George Soros was leading a global movement to abolish the game of golf.


Marco Rubio is also hostile to anything contradicting his faith, including climate change, while the leading contender for Republican nomination, Scott Walker, has taken the fight directly to academia, calling for major cuts in public university funding in Wisconsin that would add up to about $300 million over two years. He also just fired 57employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources this past Earth Day. Predictably, he doesn’t believe climate change is a big issue either, and possibly has the worst record on environment out of all of the candidates.


And so the Republican primaries will be full of the usual evangelical type preaching, damning abortion and calling their Democratic contenders “elitist” snobs, while brushing off those so-called “expert” climate scientists and their warnings. But you can only blame the politicians so much. When it comes down to it, this is simply what a big part of the population expects from their leaders — religious buffoons who embrace a paranoid style of politics; where experts and academics are looked down upon as disconnected and deceitful, and where faith in Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate guiding light. Where one is expected to go with their gut rather than their head, and where “professorial” is an insult. Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition, and these new contenders denying scientific facts and calling Harvard a communist institution are simply embracing a populace that individuals like Billy Sunday and Joseph McCarthy once embraced. The alliance of religion and big business has fully incorporated America’s unfortunate anti-intellectualist culture, which has resulted in millions of people voting against their interest because of their own ignorant hostility towards anything that could be deemed elitist. It is a cycle of ignorance and poverty, and it is exactly what the real elites, like billionaire oil men, aim for.


The American writer, Issac Asimov, once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Unfortunately, this thread has continued to this day, and individuals like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are here to remind us that ignorance can be quite competitive with knowledge, as long as there’s money behind it.


Several governors have slashed spending on higher education–such as Douglas Ducey in Arizona, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Why? Do they want to stop young Americans from learning about science and history? In some states, the expansion of charter schools is coupled with the abandonment of teacher credentials. The combination of vouchers to attend religious schools, lowered standards for entry to teaching, and budget cuts for higher education is ominous.

The East Ramapo school district is in terrible trouble. The majority of voters are Orthodox Jews, whose children attend religious schools. The public schools are predominantly African-American and Hispanic. The elected school board is dominated by members of the local Orthodox Jewish majority. They have cut spending for the public schools and are accused of diverting money to private yeshivas. which their children attend.

Currently, a bill is in the Legislature to establish a state monitor to protect the rights of the students in the public schools. There is intensive political pressure to kill the bill.

“A bill that would establish a state monitor for the East Ramapo School District, where a school board dominated by Orthodox Jews has drawn criticism for diverting money from public schools to children in local yeshivas, faces an uncertain future after running into resistance in the New York Legislature…..

“Roughly 9,000 students, the vast majority of them black or Latino, attend public schools in the district, while about 24,000 students who live there attend yeshivas. Because they vote in large numbers, Orthodox Jews have held a majority of board seats in East Ramapo since 2005. Since 2005, the board has made severe cuts to public schools, eliminating 445 positions; reducing full-day kindergarten to a half-day; and dropping half the district’s athletic programs and extracurricular activities, the state investigation found.

During the same period, spending on the transportation of students to private schools has increased sharply, and the district has in some cases paid for special education students to attend private schools when similar services were available in public schools. Parents of public school students have grown distrustful of the board, whose meetings have at times devolved into shouting matches between members and the public.”

The Board of Regents should step in to protect the students.

I am generally opposed to state takeovers, as in Newark, where the state has been in control for 20 years. State control is not a way to improve schools. But when the local board is not acting in the best interest of children, as in East Ramapo, action is necessary.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a tuition tax credit bill that is widely recognized as a backdoor voucher. The tax credits would benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. Cuomo has said this measure is a high-priority for him, and he has campaigned with Catholic clerics and in Orthodox Jewish communities.

The rationale, as with all privatization proposals, is to help low-income students escape “failing schools.” In fact, the plan will drain at least $150 million annually from the state’s education funds, which will harm far more low-income students than those who depart for religious schools.

Bruce Baker has taken a close look at the way the tuition tax credit actually works, and it is very disturbing. He notes that an Orthodox Jewish sect created a tiny village in Néw York called Kiryas Joel. It was started in the late 1970s, is populated mainly by Satmar Jews, whose first language is Yiddish. The village sought recognition from the state as an independent school district, which would have been exclusively religious in nature. In 1989, the legislature complied, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law.

Baker quotes this summary:

“In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that the statute’s purpose was to exclude all but those who lived in and practiced the village enclave’s extreme form of Judaism. This exclusionary intent failed to respect the Establishment Clause’s requirement that states maintain a neutral position with respect to religion, because it clearly created a school zone which excluded those who were non-religious and/or did not practice Samtar Hasidism. Indeed, the very essence of the Establishment Clause is that government should not demonstrate a preference for one religion over another, or religion over non-religion in general.”

Ironically, as Baker shows, Cuomo’s proposal would give Kiryas Joel what it lost at the Supreme Court.

Folks, as vouchers and tuition tax credits spread, we are heading into uncharted waters: the state will subsidize Protestant schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, evangelical schools, and schools of every other religion and sect.

Is this about better education? What do you think?

Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and the Amendments with full knowledge of the religious wars that had devastated Europe for centuries. They wanted Americans to have freedom of religion but they did not want the state to establish or sponsor any religion. They were wiser than us.

Writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a group of Texas pastors expressed their support for public education and their strong opposition to vouchers for religious institutions. They believe in separation of church and state.


They wrote:


Speaking passionately and personally, we pastors are for Texas children, and we are alarmed at the language and legislation coming from some of the most powerful people in our land. It attacks neighborhood and community schools and the dedicated, faithful educators who nurture and instruct our children.


The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 4, providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. These are plainly private school vouchers.


The lieutenant governor’s hand-picked advisory board issued a letter calling every public school classroom “a Godless environment.”


We are offended. Several of our spouses and many of our members work in public schools, and many of our children attend them. We are certain they take God with them.


We see first-hand the dedicated servants committed to the moral, ethical and emotional well-being of children as well as their academic preparation. We know the love with which counselors, administrators, classroom teachers and other staff work with the broad range of students.


They encourage all, fretting over those with particular challenges, pouring their hearts, their hours, their energies into the precious lives of children, no matter their native ability, economic background or ethnicity. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., also an Episcopal priest, points out that objects — like chewing gum — may be kept out of schools, but not God. God is the creator of heaven and earth.


Pickpocketing public coffers while simultaneously attacking public schools — anchor of the common good — seems to us inadequate leadership.


We applaud the 12 senators who opposed the disappointing voucher legislation, and we urge our representatives in the Texas House to defeat vouchers. Here’s why:


Our state Legislature has repeatedly rejected private school vouchers because they divert public money to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion.


This time the ruse is not to give religious schools money directly but simply to allow a reduction of funds in the public treasury to be diverted to private schools.


Religious liberty is at stake. The separation of church and state is intended not to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state.


With Thomas Jefferson, we believe it is sinful and tyrannical for government to compel people to pay taxes for the propagation of religious opinions with which they disagree, or even with which they agree. Authentic religion must be wholly uncoerced.


Faith should be dependent on the persuasive power of the truth it proclaims and not on the unwanted, and unneeded, assistance of the Texas Legislature.


George W. Truett, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church for the first half of the 20th century, said on the steps of the nation’s capital: “Religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree it is thus supported, it is a millstone hanged about its neck.”


As a practical matter, vouchers channel public monies to private schools with no public accountability. Private schools could use public money to discriminate on race, gender, religion and special needs.


Private schools define and meet their constituency’s needs, but public money must come with public scrutiny.


Vouchers have always been defeated in Texas because they neglect the lawful, public system and, thus, violate the Texas Constitution.


Article 7, Section 1, says: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”


Texas benefits from a robust economy, yet hovers near the nation’s bottom in per-pupil spending. We feast at bounty’s table while some children subsist on crumbs.


Education is God’s gift to all persons. Education is a core component of democracy.


We pray the Texas House will defeat vouchers by whatever name.


Let us, rather, defend and protect public education in Texas, and let us affirm and support those who shape children on our behalf.


Read more here:



Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Chris Ladd describes a voucher proposal that just passed the State Senate as the most sweeping privatization plan in the nation. He calls it “neo-Confederate.” It is a stunning editorial that should be read by everyone who thinks that public education is a public responsibility and that public money should not be funneled to religious institutions. Hopefully, good common sense  will prevail in the state House, but one never knows.


Ladd writes:


Texas’ legislature is poised to deliver a massive gift to the state’s religious fundamentalists. The Senate has passed the boldest school privatization program in the country, a pilot program that would finally neuter the “godless” public schools. This is what happens when you place a mildly deranged radio host in a state’s most powerful elected office.


Sending public school students to private religious schools may not seem like a ticket to a well-educated citizenry prepared for 21st century demands. That’s ok. Those are not the goals of this program. Legislators are looking for ways to further cut taxes and rescue Texas children from the godless influence of science, history, and empirical knowledge.


There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about school vouchers. Thirteen states plus DC already have programs that let students attend private institutions with public funding under some limited circumstances. What makes Texas’ proposal special is its ambitious scope and its potential to remove the last major edifice of public capital in Texas…..


So, let’s review. Texas’ proposed school reform would, at least on a limited scale for now, allow taxpayers to opt out of paying taxes to public schools in order to direct their contributions to EAO’s. Those entities would decide which students to fund in private schools, with no constraints on sending students to religious academies and no oversight on which students they fund.


If expanded, this offers Texas’ religious fundamentalists a huge achievement. They could finally destroy their most hated public institution – the schools. This proposal would gradually starve the public schools of their revenue stream, further cutting the amount that the state pays after years of careful under-funding. Meanwhile it would leave the public schools trapped under their existing infrastructure and mandates, a trap that would finally finish off the beast.


Undersized vouchers would fail to deliver enough funding to support a competent private education. Affluent families would get to take the money and run, receiving a state subsidy which they could combine with their family’s own contributions to pay for a reasonably good private education. Middle income families who can’t afford to pay above the voucher value would be left in the lurch, trapped between a collapsing public school system and a collection of cheap, storefront Christian madrassas.


A new generation of young people will be spared from learning about their history or discovering anything about the natural world that might challenge their religious assumptions. They’ll be ignorant, bigoted, and reliably pious, which this legislature will see as a big fat win.


The roots of this concept are perhaps even worse than the shape of the plan itself. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down racial discrimination in schools, Georgia passed a constitutional amendment in 1954 allowing their legislature to privatize the entire school system. They never took that radical step, but the law remained in place until Georgia introduced a new constitution in 1982.


One of the architects of Texas’ current plan is Arthur Laffer, a man who has manufactured a successful career out of being wrong about everything. He became famous for formulating what George Bush, Sr. famously called “voodoo economics.” Laffer most recently used his policy voodoo to rip the bottom out of Kansas’ state finances. People are still listening to this guy because results don’t matter in politics.


It isn’t clear whether the current proposals can gain enough support to pass in this session. The Senate has already approved the plan, but its future in the House is uncertain.


What is clear is that Texas’ experiment with radical Neo-Confederate government is reaching a crucially painful stage and there is no relief in sight. This disastrous and bizarre proposal may fail this year, but there is nothing to stop it from emerging again and again until it, something even worse, finally passes. Elections have consequences and there are no signs of Texas elections delivering sanity any time soon.

Indiana and some other states have enacted or plan to enact laws legalizing discrimination against same-sex couples. Blogger and teacher Kenneth Bernstein sent me this excellent article by Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, who is openly gay. Here is Ken’s reaction.

Cook writes:

“There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country.

“A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.

“Others are more transparent in their effort to discriminate. Legislation being considered in Texas would strip the salaries and pensions of clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ marriage ban later this year. In total, there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law….

“America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business. At Apple, we are in business to empower and enrich our customers’ lives. We strive to do business in a way that is just and fair. That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges. I’m writing in the hopes that many more will join this movement….

“This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.”

Andy Borowitz, the humorist who writes daily at the Néw Yorker, put it another way:

“INDIANAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion.

“Pence said that he hoped the law would protect millions of state residents “who, like me, have been practicing this religion passionately for years.”

“The bill would grant politicians like Pence the right to observe their faith freely, even if their practice of stupidity costs the state billions of dollars.”

MORE from Borowitz: Pence Stunned to Learn How Many People Have Gay Friends


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