ACLU Calls on San Marcos School to Redirect Fundraiser to a Nonreligious Group

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UPDATE – Dec. 10, 2014

Dec. 10,  2014 – Today, the ACLU received an email from the San Marcos Unified School District announcing the following:

In order to ensure that San Marcos Middle School remains in compliance with California law, Tiffany Campbell, SMMS principal, made the decision that all student monies collected during the Friends and Family Community Connection fundraiser will be donated to a non-religious, charitable organization.  The district has advised the ACLU that Mrs. Campbell and the students in ASB will select and donate to a different non-profit organization to continue their commendable and humanitarian efforts.”

David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and author of the letter that alerted the school to the constitutional issue, responded by saying, “As always, we are pleased to reach a mutually agreeable solution without litigation. I am satisfied that the school and district understand the serious issues raised. Though I don’t dispute the school’s intent was worthy, a public school must avoid the effect, intentional or not, of giving aid to religion. This principle keeps government out of the business of religion, as our founders intended.”

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Dec. 8, 2014 – While commending a middle school’s public spirit, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties raised serious concerns about the school’s sponsorship of fundraising for a religious organization. As stated on San Marcos Middle School’s website, the school is “partnering” with Kids Around the World, which “exists to reach children around the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” to raise $3,500 to provide meals for children in Tanzania.

Acknowledging it is “a worthy goal” to provide for needy children, David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, sent a letter to the school’s principal on November 20, 2014, asking the school to redirect the funds to a nonreligious organization that supports needy children, because California law prohibits public schools from providing any aid to religious organizations, no matter how the funds might end up being used. In essence, when a public school or any other arm of government lends financial assistance to a religious entity such as KATW, the government is effectively subsidizing the group’s religious mission by reducing the financial burden of any part of its operations.

The California Constitution’s “No Aid Clause” prohibits public schools from making any type of contribution to “any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose,” even if the contribution is ostensibly for nonreligious uses. But the No Aid Clause is not limited to financial assistance. As courts have held, the No Aid Clause also prohibits aid “in the intangible form of prestige and power,” which the school provided by endorsing and sponsoring the fundraiser, even though funds were not coming directly out of the school’s coffers.

As of December 4, 2014, neither the school nor the district has responded. While the San Diego ACLU prefers to resolve maters without litigation, it is considering all options to uphold the core values of California’s Constitution.