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ADF files opening brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Ariz. school choice suit

State tuition tax credit program defended before nation’s highest court
School Locker

WASHINGTON — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed an opening brief Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of school choice in Arizona. The brief asks that the suit be dismissed because the opponents have not proven that they have suffered any legal injury that would give them standing to sue over the state’s tuition tax credit program.  Arizona’s program, like many others across the country, merely allows state residents to claim a tax credit for donations to private organizations that provide scholarships to private schools.

ADF represents Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, a party in the case, which is one of about 53 non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations organized to distribute private donations in the form of scholarships to over 27,000 students attending hundreds of private schools throughout the state.

“Parents should decide what schools their children attend and where their money goes, so, obviously, this case is extremely important to the millions of Americans who support school choice.  This program is constitutionally sound and allows families the liberty to choose what’s best for their kids,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman.   “Those challenging school choice have suffered no legal injury, giving them no reason to file suit in the first place. The state never touches the private money involved, and it is one of several popular school choice programs that offer Arizona kids real educational opportunities.  Only those who want to deny children the best education possible for the sake of their own political agenda would find a reason to oppose this highly beneficial program that’s a win-win for everyone.”

ADF attorneys argue that the program is constitutional because it involves individual, private choices and funding--not government action or money--in addition to saving the state money and relieving burdens on overcrowded public schools. The district court dismissed the case against the program, finding that it did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  ADF is asking the justices to reverse a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decision that reinstated the case.

In response to claims by opponents that the program limits parental choice, ADF attorneys point out that the program’s existing structure gives Arizonans a broad range of educational choices. They stress that Arizonans are free to choose other school tuition organizations that fund non-religious private schools, emphasizing that residents can even start such organizations on their own, if they so choose.

“This type of funding does not become unconstitutional just because religious schools are allowed to participate in the program on the same basis as non-religious ones,” Cortman explained.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn after a full panel of the 9th Circuit declined to hear an appeal of a three-judge panel’s decision from May 2009. ADF ally, the Institute for Justice, which has successfully defended several Arizona school choice programs, has played an integral part in the lawsuit. IJ’s petition for certiorari in the same case is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.