Now we find ourselves in the interesting — if not ironic — position of thanking the racist, sexist white males who wrote the 1901 Constitution for also being firm advocates of the separation of church and state.
For whatever reason, Alabama’s early 20th century Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution that “no one shall be compelled by law … to pay any tithes, taxes or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or from maintaining any minister or ministry.”
Take a moment and check with any local Christian or Islamic schools. In most cases, one of their stated purposes (quoting from one in the Mobile area) is “to graduate students who are prepared … to influence their world for Christ through servant-leadership.”
Sounds like that school, and others like it, consider themselves a “ministry” — preparing people to go out and “minister” to the un-churched of the world.
The state Constitution does not prohibit such activity, nor should it. It only prohibits tax money going to help them with their cause.
Enter the so-called Alabama Accountability Act that gives tax credits to parents who send their children to schools other than “failing” ones. Under the law, schools that, in the words of Jess Brown, a political science professor at Athens State, are “an extension of the church’s mission.”
That, it would seem, violates the Alabama Constitution.
Not so, says state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who led the backroom-conceived legislative end game that got the act written and passed.
Marsh has pointed out that the money does not go to the school, it goes to the parent who can spend it on any school they choose. That must be what they call “a technicality.”
It will be for the courts to decide if this poorly thought-out act makes parents money launderers for state taxes that will eventually land in the bank accounts of religious ministries. Here in Alabama, the Republicans aren’t worried. With Chief Justice Roy Moore and a GOP majority on the state Supreme Court, Republicans apparently believe they have this one covered.
A federal court might take a different view, but similar cases have led to close decisions and little in the way of clear guidelines.
Still, it’s worth pondering if tax credits that go to parents who send their children to private schools that are part of a religious ministry a violation of the Alabama Constitution?
As the old proverb says, “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck.”
Here we have a duck. Or maybe a turkey.