A federal judge's decision to temporarily allow Cleveland's controversial religious school voucher program to resume operation does not mean the plan is constitutional, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. on Aug. 24 issued an injunction blocking the Cleveland program, saying the plan was likely to be struck down on constitutional grounds. Three days later, he issued a stay temporarily suspending the injunction and allowing 3,800 students taking part in the program to continue.
Voucher advocates criticized Oliver for issuing his original decision the day before school was scheduled to start, claiming it disrupted parents' ability to enroll their children in classes.
"The judge was under extraordinary pressure to allow the program to continue," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It's not surprising that he felt compelled to take this action."
Although he stayed the injunction, Oliver refused to allow new students to enter the program and said he would permit students already taking part to attend for just one semester.
Lynn said voucher boosters have little to celebrate in Oliver's order, calling it "a temporary extension for a constitutionally doomed program."
"I think it's pretty obvious that Judge Oliver believes the Cleveland voucher program violates the First Amendment's church-state separation provisions," said Lynn. "When he issues a full ruling, he's likely to declare the program unconstitutional and order an end to it."
Continued Lynn, "Vouchers violate the First Amendment by forcing all Americans to pay for religious education. Religion should be supported by voluntary contributions. I am confident that Judge Oliver will ultimately strike down this misguided program for violating church-state separation."
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.