Most Rev. Thomas Curry, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, is one of the leading experts in this nation on the First Amendment. He is one of the few bishops to take a consistent and vocal stand opposing state aid to Catholic schools. For example,
Bishop Thomas Curry, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said he believes the issue comes down to “how one defines religious schools.” He said Roman Catholic bishops in 1972 ruled that Catholic schools must be “thoroughly and completely” religious. “That’s the official definition that the Church follows,” said Curry, an expert on church/state relations.
But the courts, approving aid to Catholic schools for textbooks in 1968, ruled that Catholic schools were, in effect, performing two separate functions: educating students and teaching religion. “The ruling allowed public money to support the schools’ secular function,” Curry said. Subsequent court rulings, including one allowing teachers whose salaries were paid with public money to teach remedial education classes in New York Catholic schools, made the same point. “But in every case,” Curry said, “the schools had to be amenable to public accountability for that money.”
Curry said cases where a school’s secular and religious functions could not be separated present “real constitutional problems” for governmental funding. “Can government be expected to evaluate a controversy that arises in connection with religious teaching?” he asked. “I believe it cannot. And if it cannot, it should not pay for it.” …
Curry said he believed voucher programs could be of value to Catholic schools willing to scale back their religious goals in order to avoid such conflicts. “They may still be able to provide very good, quality education to people who would not be able to receive a good education otherwise,” he said. “For some, that in itself could be seen as fulfilling the mission of the Catholic church. But if schools want a more traditional religious mission, I think they need to be willing to pay for it themselves.”
For Curry, the question is what we intend of our Catholic schools. Do they have a primary religious mission of evangelization, or are they merely “private schools”?