Mackinac Center to appeal private school funding decision to judge

A free-market think tank will appeal a federal judge’s decision to reject its claim that a 1970 amendment to the Michigan Constitution discriminates against religious schools. The amendment, which was passed by voters, prohibits public funding of non-public schools.

Here is Article 8, Section 2, as amended in 1970:

The legislature must maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Each school district shall provide for the education of its students without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

No public money or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit used, by the Legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the State, directly or indirectly, to aid or maintain private, church or other non-public institutions, pre-elementary, elementary, or high school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deduction, tuition voucher, grant, grant or loan of public funds or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support any student’s attendance or employment of any person in such a non-public establishment. school or at any place or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such pupils of non-public schools. The legislator may provide for the transport of pupils to and from any school.

Attorney Patrick Wright is the director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which represents five families who want to use tax-exempt savings accounts to pay tuition and other fees to send their children to religious schools.

Wright said that in 1970 most private schools in Michigan were Catholic. He agrees that the amendment’s language is neutral and does not target religious schools, “but the whole history surrounding it indicates that it was passed with hostile religious intent.”

“So with this discriminatory evil intent, what is the First Amendment, the religious hostility of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in a state constitution.”

Casandra Ulbrich is a Democrat on the Michigan State Board of Education, and she said U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker made the right decision last week.

“The language of the state constitution is very clear. It’s very clear,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “It doesn’t deal with anything about religion or anything else. It’s just very plain language and so I think the judge was absolutely right in dismissing this lawsuit.
The challenge will be filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati. Once the case is heard and judged, the loser will almost certainly appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. That means a final resolution to the case is likely years away.

Fact-based, non-commercial reporting is made possible through your financial support. Donate to WEMU today to ensure the prosperity of your community NPR station.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at [email protected]

Previous Governor Abbott Announces New Chief of School Safety and Security | Texas Governor's Office
Next Wake County superintendent now uses her Hispanic first name