Supreme Court upholds tax credits for religious schools

| 73 Comments

The headline says it all. See here for the latest article by Adam Liptak in the Times. To put it as briefly as possible, the Court seems to think that a tax expenditure is not an expenditure. My earlier posting on the topic is here.

Thanks to Jim Lippard for lighting a fire under me.

73 Comments

This is extremely annoying. In essence, the Supreme Court has claimed that taxing the adherents of some religions at a lower rate is constitutional. Now the only way to deal with this is to try desperately to get laws or amendments that make this practice illegal passed. Another way to deal with it is to make sure that minority religious groups and non-religious groups take as full advantage of the AZ tax credit law as possible.

“To put it as briefly as possible, the Court seems to think that a tax expenditure is not an expenditure.”

So by your definition if we cut taxes on anything this is the same thing definition-wise as actually spending money on it?

If it’s personal income, then I don’t see an issue. This would mean less parents bitching about a public school curriculum they don’t agree with and attempting to force it on the rest of us.

Kasper said:

“To put it as briefly as possible, the Court seems to think that a tax expenditure is not an expenditure.”

So by your definition if we cut taxes on anything this is the same thing definition-wise as actually spending money on it?

If it’s personal income, then I don’t see an issue. This would mean less parents bitching about a public school curriculum they don’t agree with and attempting to force it on the rest of us.

If you read the dissents, the current majority broke with precedent (again). It was pointed out that if someone gets $500 though a tax credit, or a subsidy, or a direct payment, the effect is the same. The individual is getting $500 from the government in support of exclusive religious programs, regardless of how the money is paid. This is NOT a tax cut. It is a 1:1 payment from state taxes. You spend $500, they give you $500, and it comes DIRECTLY out of the state revenues.

Let’s try this another way. Do you think that the supreme court would have upheld a law paying individuals up to $500 each to send their kids to a madras? Or to build a mosque across from the World Trade Center? Outrage! Glen Beck would blow a carotid on National TV. O’Reilly would yell down some poor guest with a dampened microphone. Michelle Bachmann would (almost) look at the camera and decry the undermining of American Moral Virtue. But use it to pay for the “Ark Encounter” (like you don’t think that ain’t gonna happen now?), and if anyone objects they will be unpatriotic and anti god and anti religious. Same old same old. The law is a just a sleazy way to subsidize religious schools without making it look like they are subsidizing religious schools, and the conservatives have finally packed the Supreme Court with enough activist judges to get the sleaze upheld.

The next generation, if they have schools at all and are not avoiding being cannibalized in an America like “The Road,” will shake they heads in disgusted wonder at this Supreme Court’s work. Scalia and Thomas are two of the worst people and judges ever to be foisted upon a democratic nation.

Would that hell existed.

I suppose in 2012 the Republicans could run on a ticket of, ‘constitution? We don’t need no filthy constitution!’ It’s not my country but a Republican ticket of Sarah Palin, and Ann Coulter for Vice, with Michelle Malkin Secretary of State, and Phyllis Schlafly in charge of schools would be interesting?

It was pointed out that if someone gets $500 though a tax credit, or a subsidy, or a direct payment, the effect is the same. The individual is getting $500 from the government in support of exclusive religious programs, regardless of how the money is paid. This is NOT a tax cut. It is a 1:1 payment from state taxes.

They all have the same budgetary effect, but in the case of a tax credit, the government declines to collect the money in the first place; this has a slightly different moral flavor. Regardless, the budgetary effect is the reason taxpayers should have standing to challenge this kind of thing. Based on the NYT’s description of the law, I think the law itself would be defensible, but the citizens of the state should have standing to challenge it in court.

Since most of the Right considers Atheism to be a religion, I wonder if atheists should start exploiting these pro-religion laws that the GOP and the right wing activists on the SCOTUS hold so dearly…

So by your definition if we cut taxes on anything this is the same thing definition-wise as actually spending money on it?

The words “tax cut” weren’t even spoken. However, yes, this tax credit is the net same as spending money. The general principle of tax cuts or tax credits isn’t the issue here. It’s the favoritism for some religious groups over others. I will explain both concepts more clearly.

Suppose I am a politician and I decide to make life easier for cigarette smokers. I could cut taxes on cigarettes, or I could collect the taxes, but allow smokers to claim an equivalent tax credit. Or, I could send out government checks that can only be exchanged for cigarettes (direct spending). All of these policies have the exact same economic effect.

The issue here is that if you contribute to a scholarship fund in AZ that gives scholarships to certain religious schools, that is a tax credit.

Therefore it is an unfair tax credit, because only people who are interested in scholarships to those religious schools, but not to other religious schools, can get it.

The economic impact is the same as if the government collected extra taxes from somewhere else, and then sent out $500 checks that could only be spent on scholarship funds, but including funds that restrict the use of the scholarship to select types of religious instruction.

If it’s personal income, then I don’t see an issue.

It means more personal income for those who choose to send children to certain select private religious schools, versus those who don’t, via the government.

This would mean less parents bitching about a public school curriculum they don’t agree with and attempting to force it on the rest of us

Although this is true, it also means that you are paying for their private schools with your tax dollars.

I have been paying taxes for over forty years that has been used to fund public school cirriculum full of evolution material which is nothing but a big lie. Its about time we got a break on something from the corrupt big brother that is abusing their God ordained position. There is a Hell and Judgment is on its way.

john said:

I have been paying taxes for over forty years that has been used to fund public school cirriculum full of evolution material which is nothing but a big lie. Its about time we got a break on something from the corrupt big brother that is abusing their God ordained position. There is a Hell and Judgment is on its way.

Aw c’mon, I smell a Loki troll, or at least a Byers wannabee.

April Fool was four days ago, sport.

You want to call names. Try this one on for size. Psalm 41:1 You call it April Fool. We call it National Atheist Day.

John -

I have been paying taxes for over forty years that has been used to fund public school cirriculum full of evolution material which is nothing but a big lie.

It’s neutral scientific fact and theory. The only reasons you deny it are 1) because you adhere to religious dogma that is at odds with it and 2) you’re ignorant of it.

Nevertheless, you benefit greatly from the fact that evolution (and other valid science), rather than religious dogma, is taught as science in public schools.

If the government takes up funding some religions and discriminating against others (which to some degree it has in AZ), how do you know which end of the stick you will get? You think that your freedom of religion is guaranteed because a “majority” is “Christian” and you can stick it to the minorities? Think again. There is extensive division within “Christianity”, and plenty of Christians are out there who will be happy to say that you are not a “real” Christian.

Example of conflict even between closely related interpretations - http://www.christianpost.com/news/k[…]marks-49594/

Its about time we got a break on something from the corrupt big brother that is abusing their God ordained position. There is a Hell and Judgment is on its way.

But of course, only for other people, not for you, right? You can just do whatever you want as long as you “repent”.

Try this one on for size. Psalm 41:1

“Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.”

Strange words for you to quote, while trying to charge other people taxes to support your own sect. Do you support policies and charities that actually help the weak? Didn’t think so.

Oh, I get it. You’re whining because you saw something you didn’t like on the internet, and you think that makes you “the weak”. God is going to put people in Hell for hurting your feelings on the internet.

Try these on for size.

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

“1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”

Michael P said:

It was pointed out that if someone gets $500 though a tax credit, or a subsidy, or a direct payment, the effect is the same. The individual is getting $500 from the government in support of exclusive religious programs, regardless of how the money is paid. This is NOT a tax cut. It is a 1:1 payment from state taxes.

They all have the same budgetary effect, but in the case of a tax credit, the government declines to collect the money in the first place; this has a slightly different moral flavor. Regardless, the budgetary effect is the reason taxpayers should have standing to challenge this kind of thing. Based on the NYT’s description of the law, I think the law itself would be defensible, but the citizens of the state should have standing to challenge it in court.

I am not sure that I agree that my personal feelings about the details of the accounting procedure should serve as a basis for allowing states to explicitly fund religious institutions, and deny me the right to even challenge it. The government is not simply failing to collect money. They are rebating up to $500 directly to the individual. No spending on the religious cause, no $500. That $500 would go to the government. If I take a cab, and the charge is $20, there is absolutely ZERO difference between the cabbie giving me $10 back for a discount, and him saying “I’ll just take $10 for that, ‘cause I like you buddy.”

john said:

You want to call names. Try this one on for size. Psalm 41:1 You call it April Fool. We call it National Atheist Day.

Naw, I was just thinking you were joking. Guess not. Boring.

Since I don’t care whether anyone believes in the Big G or not, we have nothing further to discuss. Done here.

My, my, my. I think I hit a nerve. Sorry friend. If you can’t catch, you shouldn’t throw.

john said:

I have been paying taxes for over forty years that has been used to fund public school cirriculum full of evolution material which is nothing but a big lie. Its about time we got a break on something from the corrupt big brother that is abusing their God ordained position. There is a Hell and Judgment is on its way.

If evolution is such a big lie, then don’t buy any food from your local supermarket (especially since the new strains of corn, wheat and other vegetables - not to mention meat from cows, pigs and chickens - have been based on applied research in evolutionary biology). If evolution is such a big lie, don’t bother getting a flu shot, especially when there is a public health alert to a new virulent, potentially quite deadly, strain of flu. If evolution is such a lie, don’t bother getting innoculated for other diseases.

As a Deist and a Conservative Republican, I am fed up every time I hear - or read - stupid commentary from the likes of yahoos and know-nothings such as yourself (though unfortunately I may find myself in agreement with you that Obama is a terrible President of the United States, and that’s not saying much, especially since Palin would be as bad if not worse).

robert van bakel said:

I suppose in 2012 the Republicans could run on a ticket of, ‘constitution? We don’t need no filthy constitution!’ It’s not my country but a Republican ticket of Sarah Palin, and Ann Coulter for Vice, with Michelle Malkin Secretary of State, and Phyllis Schlafly in charge of schools would be interesting?

I think Schlafly is dead, though I met her once when she visited my college and, to my surprise, found her quite charming. As for Malkin, I have more respect for her than I do for any of the others you mentioned, but I wouldn’t want her in a Cabinet-level position. If Palin is the Republican Party nominee for President, then I won’t have any choice but to vote for that warmongering liberal fool, Obama.

Nah, mrg, your first estimate is on the money. Loki troll. That last one is absolutely classic.

I find it difficult to get overly upset about this. Yeah, there’s a principle involved, but at heart the US tax code is an ugly and clumsy hodgepodge, and picking at any one element of it seems an exercise in futility.

There’s something to be said for a “flat tax” and no exemptions, but alas once it gets to the consideration of practicalities, few remain enthusiastic about the idea.

“For every problem, there is a simple, straightforward, all-inclusive solution, which is invariably wrong.”

You’re in Oz, right? Is the tax code a mess down there as well? It seems politicians can never resist tinkering with it.

How in the world did we go from tax credits to flu shots? Have a nice day ya’ll, I’m outa here.

That’s all it takes to get rid of these yahoos? If only we had known.

john said:

How in the world did we go from tax credits to flu shots? Have a nice day ya’ll, I’m outa here.

Oh the stupidity. It’s a troll, but this one is just too good for illustration purposes.

Now listen, and VERY slowly think about this.… You say that states should support religious schools because public schools teach evolution, which to you is a “lie.”

It is pointed out to you that the reason you think evolution is a “lie” is because you are ignorant about evolution, and because you have strong religious beliefs which predispose you to think that evolution is equivalent to a religion.

One poster added as an example that the development of flu shots is greatly aided by the fact that we know how and why the flu virus evolves. Evolves. It.….evolves. As in “it is an example of demonstrated, directly observed evolution.” It underscores that your statement about evolution is ignorant.

Which brings us back to the reason for NOT funding fundamentalist religious schools. Most of us dread the thought of a return to the 14th century, as well as finding it repugnant that ignorant fanatics wish to twist and distort the government to get it to support their religion.

All tax systems are always in a mess. I believe the current Australian Tax Regulations amount to 16 000 pages of print. This new Carbon Emissions Tax, or whatever they’re going to call it, is going to be a cast-iron bitch to administer.

Dave Luckett said: This new Carbon Emissions Tax, or whatever they’re going to call it, is going to be a cast-iron bitch to administer.

I’m not a climate denialist so I won’t say I disagree with the global warming scenario, but I will admit to having reservations, and this is one of them: measures that are (a) bureaucratic, (b) easily gamed, and (c) of dubious effectiveness.

The stupid,uninnoculated,yahoo,know nothing troll is back. This is too much fun. You have finally convinced me. Evolution IS true! We have found the missing links, and they are YOU.

I think it is time to stop feeding the john troll – I will send further comments to the bathroom wall.

derwood said:

Since most of the Right considers Atheism to be a religion, I wonder if atheists should start exploiting these pro-religion laws that the GOP and the right wing activists on the SCOTUS hold so dearly…

They certainly can, and you don’t have to play tricks with definitions to do so

This was discussed on Matt’s earlier post (the one he links to). Basically, the AZ law allows you to donate $500 to a middleman fund, collect your tax credit, and have that middleman fund give the money to a certain type of private school or student. Like, say, christians only. But one could start a secular-school-only fund, or an atheist-students-only fund, or whatever you want. IIRC the only real restriction was that your money can’t go directly and specifically to your own kid, so Matt couldn’t start a “Matt Young’s kid” fund and then donate his $500 to it.

The 1st amendment problem (IMO) is that regardless of whether multiple religious and non-religious groups can use the process, it is still the case that the government is allowing tax money to be doled out based on religious criteria. The fact that atheists are allowed to set the religious criteria for some of the money doesn’t make it any less of a violation.

Ah, but keep in mind, atheism is non-prophet.

Flint said:

Why is it that ONLY the main screen of Panda’s Thumb has vanished? I can see the archives, the forum, the wall, the links, etc.

Which version of Internet Explorer are you using, Flint? I have either version 8 or 9 on my laptop computer (works in Windows Vista; have two others operating in Windows XP and have no problems either) and I get all the features of PT.

I’m using version 9. When I get around to it, I’ll flush my cache.

Flint said: And as I read it, what Scalia was saying is, this exception is inelegant and unnecessary. It should not be an exception, and if some government decides to use tax policy to subsidize a specific religious faith, voting the bums out remains the appropriate redress just as it is for spending on useless wars, NPR, or subsidizing the elderly. Scalia is at least consistent and coherent.

No, he’s not. When SCOTUS overruled D.C.’s gun restrictions, the question of standing didn’t even come up. Evidently ‘vote the bums out’ is only a good solution for him when legislators pass a law violating the (religious clause of the) 1st amendment. If they pass a law violating the 2nd, he sees that as needing immediate redress from the courts.

Does anyone seriously believe that if, say, AZ passed a law collecting a special tax on people unwilling to quarter soldiers in their homes, or giving a tax rebate to people who don’t own guns, that the courts would claim citizens don’t have standing to challenge that tax?

I don’t. Not for a second.

The bottom line is that fixing unconstitutional laws passed by elected legislators is one of the raison d’etres of the court system itself. Scalia has a long history of giving legislators extremely broad backing on promoting religion, dating at least back to the 1980s when he dissented to Edwards Vs. Aguillard and stated he thought it was perfectly fine to teach biblical creationism. If he’s consistent, its because he’s consistently pro-christian exceptionalism or pro-majoritarian rule. Neither of which are particularly good traits in a guy whose very job consists of ensuring the majority obeys the constitution.

If he’s consistent, its because he’s consistently pro-christian exceptionalism or pro-majoritarian rule.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito are simply consistent in defending laws passed by right wing Republicans, or the interests of parties in suits who are presumed, on demographics, to be the most likely to be right wing Republicans.

It is fair to say that they are functionally similar to dictators. They can’t be voted out. That’s the difference between a representative and a dictator. And they clearly aren’t constrained by the constitution or precedent - that’s the difference between a justice and a dictator.

This is, of course, equally true of any SCOTUS justice who allows pure ideology to trump legal reasoning. They are not the first such and may not be the last.

However, while past justices did set precedent and alter prior constitutional amendments, in the years between WWII and the recent present, this was overwhelmingly done in ways that mainstream legal scholars agreed represented valid extension of the constitution. The knee jerk rulings in favor of a single political ideology and those presumed to adhere to it, in total disregard for the Constitution, precedent, or popular choice, is not new in history, but is new in recent history.

Any law that seems suboptimal to that minority of the population whom they favor automatically has a heckler’s veto - it simply has to be challenged, and appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, who will always agree to hear it and apply their unfettered power to it.

The only constraints on their power to impose their own arbitrary desires on Americans are 1) what they perceive as the suboptimal ideological purity of Kennedy (but one whom they can often rely, as shown here), and 2) the limited but real power of lower court justices like Judge Jones to sometimes prevent the worst outrages from getting to SCOTUS via strong decisions.

Typo - I meant to say “alter prior constitutional interpretations”.

My comment is a bit strong, but it is frustrating when expected legal outcomes become so predictable to a non-lawyer like me.

It should not be the case that a cynic should always be able to predict SCOTUS justice’s decisions based on nothing but an understanding of their partisan ideology.

I would like to add one final thing. There are plenty of examples of justices and judges deciding in ways that did not “pay off” those who appointed them. Many of these came from Republican judges. Earl Warren is a famous example. Another good example is Judge Jones. We all recall the crowing, before the Dover decision, by ID/creationists who predicted victory, simply because Jones was a Bush-appointed Republican.

Scalia has a long history of giving legislators extremely broad backing on promoting religion, dating at least back to the 1980s when he dissented to Edwards Vs. Aguillard and stated he thought it was perfectly fine to teach biblical creationism. If he’s consistent, its because he’s consistently pro-christian exceptionalism or pro-majoritarian rule.

Yes, I should have made that distinction as well. Scalia doesn’t seem to see violating the religion clause as being particularly unconstitutional, but rather within the ordinary scope of political policy. And I’m personally convinced that if his religious faith were penalized rather than subsidized, he’d “find” the law differently.

Now, if I were a Justice, I’d find the tax breaks granted to churches to be equally unconstitutional.

Now, if I were a Justice, I’d find the tax breaks granted to churches to be equally unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, tax breaks for religions are expanding as they go into ever more varied businesses - but taxes are just the tip of the iceberg. Land use regulations, civil rights law, copyright law, pensions, immigration, health care legislation, child abuse statutes, there are religious exemptions for almost any law you can find; religious organizations are exempt from most federal, state, and local regulations covering social services, addiction centers, and child care, among many others. Federal law gives religious organizations special tools to contest local zoning decisions. The special privileges that religions enjoy in America are just about uncountable.

Much of it may be hidden, at least until a megachurch pops up next door, but the entire American legal code is drenched in religion. As for the current Supreme Court, just wait until an evolution case comes up before them. It will all come down to Kennedy and there’s a good chance he’ll side with the Scalia wing - if they can fund religious schools with public money, teaching creationism in public school can’t be far behind.

tomh said: It will all come down to Kennedy and there’s a good chance he’ll side with the Scalia wing - if they can fund religious schools with public money, teaching creationism in public school can’t be far behind.

I think you are probably right. Kennedy sided with Scalia in part in the 2005 McCreary vs ACLU ten commandments case. Basically, he said the majority was right in ruling that courts could look at historical use and were not limited only to what legislators said, but that otherwise they got it wrong in ruling a ten commandments display unconstitutional.

Scalia’s dissent in that case is a horror. If you really want to see what sort of justice he’d prefer, read it. Here’s a taste:

With respect to public acknowledgment of reli¬gious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

tomh said: As for the current Supreme Court, just wait until an evolution case comes up before them. It will all come down to Kennedy and there’s a good chance he’ll side with the Scalia wing - if they can fund religious schools with public money, teaching creationism in public school can’t be far behind.

They would have to ignore Federal Judge John Jones’s notable ruling in Kitzmiller vs. Dover, and, just as important, what the Supreme Court itself had ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and Epperson v. Arkansas (1968). I strongly doubt that the current Supreme Court would go against the legal precedents established in each of these cases.

Scalia doesn’t care what he says, and he definitely enjoys the shock value of some of his statements. Michael Newdow wrote a great dissection of this particular dissent, Question to Justice Scalia: Does the Establishment Clause Permit the Disregard of Devout Catholics? And for anybody, (Kwok, for instance) who thinks that a District Court ruling in Pennsylvania, (Dover), will have any impact on a Supreme Court decision, well, they simply have no clue. There are four justices who would be happy to take up the issue right now, which would bring it all down to Kennedy. Kennedy, who thinks the Ten Commandments are fine to display, and the National Day of Prayer is perfectly legitimate, has become more and more illiberal when it comes to mixing religion and government.

eric said:

tomh said: It will all come down to Kennedy and there’s a good chance he’ll side with the Scalia wing - if they can fund religious schools with public money, teaching creationism in public school can’t be far behind.

I think you are probably right. Kennedy sided with Scalia in part in the 2005 McCreary vs ACLU ten commandments case. Basically, he said the majority was right in ruling that courts could look at historical use and were not limited only to what legislators said, but that otherwise they got it wrong in ruling a ten commandments display unconstitutional.

Scalia’s dissent in that case is a horror. If you really want to see what sort of justice he’d prefer, read it. Here’s a taste:

With respect to public acknowledgment of reli¬gious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

I realize this comment is a little tangential, but you all remember David Barton the “historian” who was instrumental at rewriting the history standards fiasco in Texas. He’s still on his campaign tirade and recently Mike Huckabee spoke at a fundy christian meeting with him. What Huckabee says is rather astounding regarding Americans and how we should pay attention to the message they’re sending:

http://blog.au.org/2011/04/08/corre[…]-on-homepage

tomh said:

Scalia doesn’t care what he says, and he definitely enjoys the shock value of some of his statements. Michael Newdow wrote a great dissection of this particular dissent, Question to Justice Scalia: Does the Establishment Clause Permit the Disregard of Devout Catholics? And for anybody, (Kwok, for instance) who thinks that a District Court ruling in Pennsylvania, (Dover), will have any impact on a Supreme Court decision, well, they simply have no clue. There are four justices who would be happy to take up the issue right now, which would bring it all down to Kennedy. Kennedy, who thinks the Ten Commandments are fine to display, and the National Day of Prayer is perfectly legitimate, has become more and more illiberal when it comes to mixing religion and government.

eric said:

tomh said: It will all come down to Kennedy and there’s a good chance he’ll side with the Scalia wing - if they can fund religious schools with public money, teaching creationism in public school can’t be far behind.

I think you are probably right. Kennedy sided with Scalia in part in the 2005 McCreary vs ACLU ten commandments case. Basically, he said the majority was right in ruling that courts could look at historical use and were not limited only to what legislators said, but that otherwise they got it wrong in ruling a ten commandments display unconstitutional.

Scalia’s dissent in that case is a horror. If you really want to see what sort of justice he’d prefer, read it. Here’s a taste:

With respect to public acknowledgment of reli¬gious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

Am sorry tomh, but I respectfully disagree, especially when Kitzmiller vs. Dover is regarded by many as an important - if unofficially - legal precedent written by a Conservative judge that was especially well written and conceived. The current Conservative Supreme Court judges would have to take seriously Jones’s rationale for ruling as he did, since I am certain that any case similar to Kitzmiler vs. Dover that might be brought to the Supreme Court would rely on Jones’s ruling (Scalia probably wouldn’t pay attention, but the others would have to, especially given the ample legal precedents set by the Supreme Court in the Epperson vs. Arkansas and Edwards vs. Aguillard cases. Indeed, I strongly suspect that one reason why there hasn’t been another Kitzmiler vs. Dover case is because the creos are afraid that they might have to contend with another judge of the same high moral and intellectual caliber as Judge Jones.

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