School grant process determined to be legal
July 18, 2018
The Diocese of Des Moines has reviewed the facts and law surrounding the educational grant from Polk County to the Education for the 21st Century Foundation. We agree completely with Polk County that the Community Development Grant was entirely legal and proper. The grant process was open and subject to scrutiny by legal experts. The County fully complied with Iowa law that prohibits the County from giving funds to an institution “under ecclesiastical or sectarian management or control.” See Iowa Code Section 331.901 (5). The County meticulously complied with that statue which, in light of the United States Supreme Court’s 2017 decision Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, is clearly unconstitutional.
Polk County has shared gaming revenue with a number of public and private non-profit institutions that have demonstrated beneficial charitable and public purposes. The Education for the 21st Century Foundation is just such an institution.
The Catholic Church did not manage or control the foundation that received the grant. The grant money was not used for religious purposes. It was used for purchasing learning technology that was provided to Christian and parochial schools. Catholic schools receive support for transportation or the purchase of text books that the state of Iowa provides to private schools. This is obviously in recognition of the fact that families choosing a religious education are taxpayers. Providing this form of support that does not directly advance religion is entirely consistent with the law. In fact, as the US Supreme Court has recognized, a law or policy that expressly discriminates against an otherwise eligible recipient and disqualifies them from a public benefit because of their religious character, is a clear violation of the United States Constitution.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Des Moines has concluded that there is nothing improper associated with the technology grant. To imply otherwise does a disservice to honest, hardworking public servants and belies a troubling hostility to religion.