The practice of lending non-religious books to private schools violates the New Mexico Constitution, the court said in a unanimous decision.
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled today that the New Mexico Department of Public Education can no longer lend school books to private and religious schools.
The practice of lending non-religious books to private schools violates the New Mexico Constitution, the court said in a unanimous decision. Thursday’s decision reversed a District Court judge’s decision that the practice was legal, as well as a New Mexico Court of Appeals ruling that had upheld the lower court judge.
It’s not clear how long the PED has been lending books to private schools, how many books it lends or how much the program costs. PED officials didn’t immediately respond to ABQ Free Press questions about the scope of the program.
The case centered around a clause in the New Mexico Constitution that says, “The schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions provided for by this constitution shall forever remain under the exclusive control of the state, and no part of the proceeds arising from the sale or disposal of any lands granted to the state by Congress, or any other funds appropriated, levied or collected for educational purposes, shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.”
Two state residents, Cathy Moses and Paul Weinbaum, filed suit against the program, saying it violated their constitutional rights because it forced them to “support and aid the religious dictates of others with whom they disagree,” the ruling said.
The state appellate court ruled that New Mexico’s Constitution provides protections against the state establishing a religion, but that the book-lending program was legal because it didn’t constitute the establishment of a religion by the state.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution provides protections that go beyond the establishment of a religion.
The Constitution “prohibits the use of any part of the proceeds from the sale or disposal of any land granted to the state by Congress or any other funds appropriated, levied, or collected for educational purposes for sectarian, denominational schools. The framers of our Constitution chose to further restrict the use of public funds by prohibiting their use for the support of private schools,” the opinion said.
“As a result, a public school under the control of the State can directly receive funds, while a private school not under the exclusive control of the State can not receive either direct or indirect support. It is clear that private schools in New Mexico have control of what instructional materials will be purchased with their allocation of instructional material funds. The fact that students who attend private schools, just like students who attend public schools, are only loaned these instructional materials is not material to the analysis. Private schools benefit because they do not have to buy instructional materials with money they obtain by tuition or donations and they can divert such money to other uses in their schools.”
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