Supreme Court decision to give religious schools computer access

Manni Balignasay and Tara Payne

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling favored Iowa’s use of taxpayer dollars to make computer technology more available to non-public schools.

The ruling of Mitchell vs. Helms upheld a government program that provides religious schools with the use of computers.

“I’m ecstatic that the funds are available,” said Bob Stouffer, head of Des Moines Christian School, 4801 Franklin Ave.

Iowa passed a bill that allotted $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars to the Department of Education for purposes of making technology available to students of accredited non-public schools.

Stouffer said the Supreme Court ruling “clears the way” for money to Des Moines Christian School and other area non-public schools.

The funds are from the pooled technology account in which the Department of Education is first on the descending priority list for the money during the fiscal year, which began July 1.

The bill states primary and secondary religious schools “shall be made available to purchase non-sectarian, non-religious technology.”

“Tuition is not enough to cover costs — when any other source of revenue becomes available, were going to take advantage of it,” Stouffer said.

More technological education could lead to better career preparation, said Beverly Madden, director of Career Services at Iowa State.

Madden said a lack of computer access in high school can affect a student’s career choice after graduation.

“My sense would be that it may affect the realm of study they choose,” Madden said. “There could be a limiting factor in terms of which of our majors would be appealing to them.”

She said most students who are majoring in computer-related fields already have experience and skills, but students who don’t have experience may take longer to advance within their programs.

“If they haven’t had it, they may not realize what options exist for them,” Madden said. “They may not have as wide a horizon if they’ve never been exposed to a computer.”

However, not everyone believes the ruling is positive for Iowa.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, said he questions the constitutionality of allowing religious schools to share this kind of program.

He said the ruling allowed religious schools to use computers and other instructional equipment as long as they are not used for religious education. Stone said he’s not sure if every school will adhere to this part of the ruling.

“This means [religious schools] can’t buy a CD [ROM] for a bible, for example,” Stone said. “[However], you could still buy non-religious technology and use it for religious purposes.”

Stone said with this ruling, he believes the U.S. Supreme Court came “perilously close to abandoning its traditional role of safeguarding religious liberty from government intrusion.”

“Taxpayer funds could be used to promote religious doctrines they don’t agree with,” Stone said.

The amount of money given to the religious schools will be in proportion to the enrollment of religious schools to the enrollment of public schools in the Iowa.