- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Dozens of advocacy groups from across the country have weighed in as the New Hampshire Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of a business tax credit program that benefits students at religious schools.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on the Education Tax Credit Program crafted by Republican lawmakers who overrode a 2012 veto by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.

The law took effect in January 2013. A Superior Court judge six months later struck down the religious schools provision as unconstitutional.

Tax credit supporters such as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Alliance Defending Freedom see the ruling as an attack on religious freedom. Associations representing school administrators, teachers and school boards say the law diverts funds from public schools.

Under the program, businesses get tax credits of up to 85 percent on their donations to a private organization that awards scholarships to students attending either private and religious schools, or being home-schooled. The credit businesses get is intended to offset taxes on business profits and business enterprise taxes.

The Superior Court ruling last June left intact that part of the tax credit program that allocates scholarships to private, non-religious schools and those who are home-schooled. Although capped in its first year at $4 million in tax credits, the program had generated only about $140,000 in donations by June of last year.

Gov. Maggie Hassan urged the court to uphold the ruling, saying the tax credit amounts to a government subsidy of religious schools. She has made repeal of the entire law a priority, but Republicans last year managed to block repeal efforts.

Hassan says the tax credit puts an added burden on communities and amounts to an education voucher program, which the state Supreme Court struck down.

Concord Christian Academy and others said that to exclude religious schools from the program violates constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and equal protection.

The Anti-Defamation League filed a brief saying the tax credit program violates the principal of separation of church and state.