Edd Doerr is the president of Americans for Religious Liberty and a strong proponent of separation of church and state. In this paper, he gives a brief overview of the history of this infra, explains why vouchers are a very bad idea, and reviews the 27 state referenda on vouchers or variant on public funds for religious schools.
Since his paper was written in 2012, a proposal to amend the Florida state constitution to permit vouchers (called the Religious Freedom Amendment) was defeated in 2012 by 55-45%, despite a vigorous campaign by Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee on its behalf, and despite the deceptive tactic of asking voters whether they support “religious freedom.” This past election, voters in Oklahoma rejected a constitutional amendment that would “have stripped the provision in the state constitution that prevents public money or property from being used to support religion and religious institutions.”
Wherever vouchers exist, they have been authorized by state legislatures, never by voters. State legislatures are influenced by political contributions and are easier to manipulate than voters, as Dick and Betsy DeVos learned when their own state voucher proposal in Michigan went down to defeat in 2000.
In Doerr’s paper, he shows how voucher advocates ignore the Founding Fathers’ conviction about religious liberty. He cites Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia legislation called “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.”*
Doerr quotes a section of the bill:
This Act ended legal compulsion to attend church services and barred tax support for religious institutions. It provide that “no man . . . shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”
Doerr goes on to write:
While the Constitution drafted in 1787 did not grant the federal government power to deal with religion in any way, it proscribed religious tests for public office, and provided for an affirmation instead of an oath of office. The absence of a specific religious freedom guarantee bothered Jefferson and others. Six states ratified the Constitution but insisted on a religious freedom amendment. Rhode Island and North Carolina declined to ratify it until a bill of rights was adopted. Shortly after his election to the House of Representatives Madison introduced a compilation of proposals for a bill of rights to be added. Several versions of a religious liberty provision were considered before the following wording of what is now the First Amendment was adopted: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
President Jefferson, in a carefully thought-out 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, declared that these words built a “wall of separation between church and state.” Supporters of church-state separation hold that the “no establishment” clause was noted by the Supreme Court as early as 1878, but was best and most succinctly interpreted by the Supreme Court in the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education ruling. The Court stated:
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state’.”
So bear in mind as Trump and DeVos and others promote vouchers that would divert money from public schools to religious schools, they are at war not only with voters but with the Founding Fathers.
*Doerr cites the wrong date for passage of the bill in Virginia, which was 1779, not 1786.