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The Freedom From Religion Foundation applauds a unanimous decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court that public money cannot be spent on the state’s private schools.
The 5-0 judgment was called “a high-profile defeat for Gov. Henry McMaster” by the state’s capital newspaper. McMaster had announced this summer he was channeling $32 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay tuition grants of up to $6,500 per student for about 5,000 private school K-12 students. Almost all private K-12 schools are religiously segregated schools devoted to propagating religious teachings.
The state’s high court decreed that the use of public funds for the direct benefit of private educational institutions is prohibited by Article XI, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution. The 15-page opinion was written by Chief Justice Donald Beatty:
Even in the midst of a pandemic, our state Constitution remains a constant, and the current circumstances cannot dictate our decision. Rather, no matter the circumstances, the court has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution.
FFRF salutes the plaintiffs, including Orangeburg educator Thomasene Adams and Sherry East, head of the S.C. Education Association, and the attorneys who brought the vital challenge, for defending our public schools. East told reporters: “I am excited, elated, overjoyed.”
Their attorney, Skyler Hutto, stated: “Al Nickles [Hutto’s co counsel] and I were extremely proud to be representing South Carolina schools, South Carolina parents and South Carolina children in our Supreme Court, and we couldn’t be happier that it turned out this way.”
After McMaster announced the outrageous giveaway in late July, FFRF wrote to him: “The right to be free from being taxed to support religions in which you disbelieve is a foundational American principle that protects religious liberty in a fundamental way.”
Compounding the injury was the fact that McMaster, while designating no CARES Act funding for beleaguered public schools, had told them that they had to offer both remote and in-person instruction in the fall. Meanwhile, the private schools receiving the unprecedented windfall would have been under no such constraints.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor calls the Supreme Court judgment a great victory for public schools and for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.
“This decision should send a strong message to theocratic public officials everywhere that they cannot use public pandemic funds to promote private schools or private religious institutions,” she says. “The need is so great right now for relief for our public schools, which educate (not indoctrinate) more than 90 percent of K-12 students.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,000 members across the country, including hundreds in South Carolina. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.