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Civil rights groups challenge New Hampshire education tax program

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) [advocacy websites] on Wednesday challenged [press release] the constitutionality of a tuition tax-credit program designed to divert taxpayer money to private religious schools across the state. According to the ACLU, the Education Tax Credit Bill [text], which was passed last year and took effect on January 1, allows "businesses to reduce their tax liability by receiving an 85 percent tax credit in exchange for donations made to K-12 scholarship organizations, which will pay for tuition at religious and other private schools." Both the ACLU and AU are arguing that, because the bill does not provide for any monitoring or oversight of the funds, religious schools "will be able to use the donations for religious instruction, indoctrination and religiously based discrimination." Specifically, the organizations are asking the court to find the program in violation of the New Hampshire Constitution [text] and block the state from any further implementation.

The separation of church and state has been and remains a controversial issue [JURIST op-ed] in American courts. In October the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] dismissed a suit [JURIST report] challenging a Pennsylvania House Resolution declaring 2012 the "Year of the Bible." In May the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a lawsuit opposing a Ten Commandments monument displayed on property owned by the City of Fargo, North Dakota, may move forward. Last January the US Supreme Court [official website] declined to review [JURIST report] a case concerning whether a county board of commissioners in North Carolina violated the Establishment Clause by opening its public meetings with prayers. The court's denial of certiorari preserved a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] holding [JURIST report] that that the board of commissioners violated the Establishment Clause by effectively using a public forum to endorse Christianity. Earlier that month a federal judge ordered Florida's Dixie County Courthouse to remove the Ten Commandments monument [JURIST report] displayed on the front steps of the courthouse, concluding that the monument's religious message would be interpreted to be espoused by the government.

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