A state appellate court decision upholding Florida's private school voucher program is only a minor setback in the legal battle over the issue, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee ruled Oct. 3 that vouchers do not violate a provision of the Florida Constitution that requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools."
Last year, the state legislature approved Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to allow students attending "failing" public schools to transfer to religious and other private schools at state expense. The plan was challenged in court by a group of Florida parents and taxpayers.
The Holmes v. Bush lawsuit is being sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the PTA, the NAACP and other groups that support public education. In the litigation, the voucher program is being challenged on a variety of constitutional grounds.
Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "The appellate court's ruling is regrettable, but it is a minor skirmish in the on-going battle over taxpayer funding of religious schools."
Lynn said the Holmes decision will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
Even if the voucher program is permissible under one provision in the state constitution, the Americans United leader said, it will likely be struck down because of others. For example, Article I, Sec. 3 forbids the use of public funds "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
Concluded AU's Lynn, "I am confident that the courts are going to rule against the Florida program, just as they have ruled against vouchers in Ohio, Maine and Vermont. Taxpayers must never be forced to pay for church schools."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
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.