FFRF probes large San Jose grant to religious school

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, is investigating an unconstitutional grant of more than $800,000 in taxpayer funds to a private religious school in San Jose.

The city reportedly recently awarded these funds to be paid directly to Cristo Rey San Jose High School for a work-study program. FFRF understands these public funds will be used, at least in part, to pay for students’ tuition at Cristo Rey, hence subsidizing religious education.

According to local media reports, the school was the only qualifying applicant for the funds and local public school superintendents were unaware that the funding was available. Despite the city’s assertion that it emailed local school districts about the grant, area superintendents reportedly never received any notification until a recent city council meeting at which the grant to Cristo Rey was approved. This lack of transparency is particularly concerning, given that San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a voting member of the city council, co-founded the religious school to which these funds were given, according to a media report.

It is a violation of California’s “no aid” clause to pay a portion of students’ tuition to a private religious school, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne points out to the city’s attorney. Additionally, the city appears to have given Cristo Rey favored treatment compared to public schools, which is itself unconstitutional.

“The city’s decision to award more than 800,000 dollars of discretionary funds to a private religious school, subsidizing religious instruction, is unconstitutional,” Jayne writes. “Combined with the mayor’s personal connection to the school and the alleged failure to give public school administrators the same notice provided to Cristo Rey, the appearance of an unfair bias is overwhelming.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, has also filed an open records request seeking information related to the mismanaged bidding process.

“Handing over close to 1 million dollars in public funds to a religious school in an under-the-table deal is an affront to the rights of conscience of every San Jose taxpayer,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 4,000 members in California and a chapter in Sacramento. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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