Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Mexico Gives Textbooks to Religious Schools

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Paul Weinbaum is concerned about the state financially supporting religious schools. In the past two years, the New Mexico has spent $1.8 million a year on school textbooks for religious schools. Over 40% of the overall money that the state spends on textbooks for private schools goes to religious schools.

Is it unconstitutional for public funds to provide textbooks for religious schools?

Weinbaum believes New Mexico is misusing state taxpayer’s money for religious reasons and he states, “It's against the law to use taxpayer money to support religious organizations, any religious institution. . . It has always been that way, as far as I know - except in crooked courts."

However, Connie Limon, the principal of Las Crices Catholic School and St Mary’s High School (neither of which has received textbooks from the state in the past two years) says that the teachers do not only teach the students how to pray but, “we teach the pledge of allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful. We teach students to be patriotic, to be thankful for this nation we live in. We also pledge our allegiance to the state of New Mexico.” Just because private school students learn the pledge of allegiance, show patriotism along wit saying prayers, does that justify their state funded textbooks?

New Mexico’s Public Education Department spokesperson, Larry Behrens raises the ten year old Instructional Materials Act. This act states, “. . . any qualified student or person eligible to become a qualified student attending a public school, a state institution or a private school approved by the department in any grade from 1-12th grade of instruction is entitled to the free use of instructional material.” Under the Instructional Material’s Act, New Mexico is following the guidelines os public aid and not violating the law.

Now the question is, is the Instructional Materials Act advancing or supporting religion and violating the First Amendment?

In a similar case, Cochran v Louisiana State Board of Education, Louisiana passed a statute that allowed state funded secular books to be distributed to both public and private schools. Even though public funds were being used to benefit private institutions, Justice Hughes clarified that the intent was to benefit the student rather than the school itself.

Even though, in both the New Mexico and Louisiana cases, the private schools are spared the expense of purchasing textbooks, the statute and acts focus on the children. In many court cases, the court seems to have different standards when deciding student’s or children’s rights. If this were a case over the state funding books for a private Christian University, this would be a completely different matter and the court would not rule in favor of the University.

I believe that even though the court justifies their actions as benefiting the children and students rather than the institution, the Instructional Materials Act violates the First Amendment. There is no way around the fact that the state is indirectly giving money to the private schools. Since the private schools do not have to pay for textbooks, they in the end are the one’s benefiting since the students would receive the textbooks one way or another.


Harry R. said...

I disagree with Christy that this program violates the First Amendment based on the precedent of Cochran v. Board of Education (1930). Here, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could buy textbooks for private schools which would be supplied at public schools. This was determined to not represent a violation of the Establishment Clause. Based on the child benefit theory, this was determined to help the students themselves, not the religious schools. Based on this precedent, the program in question is not in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Jean A said...

I disagree with how Christy viewed this case. Much like Harry stated, the precedent has been set through Cochran that the funding of textbooks to private schools is not in violation of the first amendment. Just because the students would get the textbooks either way, does not mean the private school is benefiting over the child. If the private school was forced to buy these textbooks for students, tuition rates would go up in order to fund the buying of books. Because the government has stepped in with public funds, tuition increases for textbooks is not an issue, thus benefiting the child and their parents...not the school.