The U.S. House of Representatives by a one-vote margin last night approved a school voucher plan for the District of Columbia, a move Americans United for Separation of Church and State has condemned as reckless and dangerous.
The plan, enthusiastically backed by the Bush administration, would allocate $10 million in federal funds over five years to pay for tuition for an estimated 1,300 students to attend religious and other private schools.
"President Bush and his congressional allies are trying to impose a religious tax on all Americans," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The Senate must reject this misguided crusade."
Lynn called on all Americans to contact their senators and urge them to vote against the voucher proposal.
"The public should not be forced to fund religious schools that are not accountable to the taxpayers," he said. "At a time when budgets are tight, our first priority must be improving and strengthening public schools."
Continued Lynn, "Concerned citizens need to contact their senators today and tell them to vote no on the D.C. school voucher bill." (The legislation is S. 1583, the "D.C. Student Opportunity Scholarship Act.")
The House leadership resorted to arm-twisting and underhanded tactics to pass the bill, Lynn charged. He noted that Majority Leader Tom DeLay waited until several Democratic House members left Washington to attend a debate among Democratic presidential candidates before bringing up the bill.
DeLay (R-Texas) kept the vote open for 40 minutes while he pressured moderate Republicans to back the plan, ultimately winning a tie-breaking vote from Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.), who had earlier voted against the plan. The measure then passed 209-208.
"The fact that DeLay and his cronies had to resort to hardball tactics shows how weak voucher support in the House is," said Lynn. "Had this been a straight up-and-down vote with all members participating, it would not have passed."
Continued Lynn, "This bill was railroaded through the House using tactics of intimidation and deceit. Those of us who oppose vouchers are not afraid of debate and a fair vote. Tom DeLay apparently is. That is a shame.
"The Senate must not endorse this reckless and dangerous bill," Lynn said.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.