The Freedom From Religion Foundation has obtained a victory for South Carolina taxpayers.
FFRF filed a suit last year on behalf of four South Carolina taxpayers against state officials, including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, challenging the state’s unconstitutional $1.5 million funding of a religious group. Christian Learning Centers of Greenville County, a private religious educational institution whose mission is to “provide biblical instruction for public school children at no cost,” withdrew its funding request after pressure from FFRF’s lawsuit.
On Nov. 9, after hearings on multiple motions from both sides two weeks earlier, Judge George McFaddin decided that Parker v. McMaster was moot and the case was dismissed. Because Christian Learning Centers withdrew its request for the funds, the judge found that there was no other action a court could take to resolve the case. The withdrawal of the request effectively ended the controversy.
On July 25 of this year, the Christian Learning Centers board voted to abandon its plans to build a school with the funds and withdraw its request to the Department of Education for the $1.5 million. This was the same day the plaintiffs were scheduled to take the deposition of an officer from the organization to explain how it had come to receive an appropriation from the state. Although an order from the court declaring the appropriation unconstitutional would have been the ideal resolution, this is a win for FFRF and its plaintiffs because an unconstitutional appropriation to a private religious organization to expand its mission of religious education was stopped.
“The South Carolina Constitution prohibits public funds to be used to directly benefit any private educational institution (Article XI, Section 4),” read the legal complaint that the state/church watchdog filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Richland County. “Additionally, the South Carolina Constitution contains an Establishment Clause that mirrors the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from making any ‘law respecting an establishment of religion’ (Article I, Section 2).”
“This was a blatantly Christian outfit that was unconstitutionally aiming to become the beneficiary of a huge public giveaway,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We were able to ensure with our lawsuit that this didn’t happen.”
South Carolina attorney Steven Edward Buckingham represented the plaintiffs, with FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott and FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman serving as co-counsel. Three of the plaintiffs were FFRF members, and the fourth, who has children in the Greenville County Schools, is familiar with the purpose of Christian Learning Centers.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members nationwide, including hundreds of members in South Carolina. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.