The ACLU of Southern California today filed suit in United States District Court, alleging that this week's grant of $2,500 by San Luis Obispo County to the Mission College Catholic Preparatory High School violates the Establishment Clause of the United States constitution and Article IX and Article XVI of the California constitution, which prohibit government funding of sectarian schools and institutions.
On Monday April 26, 1999, Hank Alberts, President of the ACLU's San Luis Obispo County Chapter delivered a letter to all the members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and to the County Counsel. That letter stated that the ACLU objected to the allocation of funds to Mission Catholic Prep, and that, in the opinion of the ACLU, the grant was unconstitutional.
On Tuesday April 27, Mr. Alberts addressed the Board of Supervisors and again explained the ACLU's opposition to allocating County funds to Mission Catholic Prep. After briefly discussing the issue, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to approve the grant. One board member was not present, and one recused himself on the ground that he had children who attended Mission Catholic Prep.
Mission College Catholic Preparatory High School offers classes in performing arts and the school's religious mission is emphasized in its drama program. The school's catalogue states that . Mission College Prep has a unique opportunity to become a center for student participation in the Arts, to re-develop the 'Renaissance Person' in an atmosphere imitative of God's creative beauty.
"Providing money to a religious school so it can put on a play improperly breaches the separation of church and state guaranteed by the U.S. and California constitutions. The California constitution contains an explicit provision forbidding government from giving money to sectarian schools," said ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg.
"The ACLU has long believed that we must keep clear the lines between church and state," added ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston. "Making this kind of gift of public funds directly to a sectarian institution should cause great concern to all who believe in the keeping the government out of the business of endorsing religious institutions."
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of local residents Isaac Rudyard Stone and Dominic Perello. The case has been assigned to The Honorable Stephen V. Wilson.