House Passes D.C. School Vouchers, Flunks Constitutional Test

Court Test Certain If D.C. Plan Becomes Law, Advocacy Group Vows

Washington, D.C. -- A private school voucher plan for the District of Columbia approved by the U.S. House of Representatives today violates the constitutional separation of church and state and is certain to face a court challenge if it becomes law, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"House members haven't done their homework," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The U.S. Constitution forbids the use of tax dollars to pay for private religious schools. Unless President Clinton vetoes this legislation, a court challenge is certain.

"And in light of some recent rulings, I'm surprised anyone would even think a voucher scheme like this one could pass a court challenge," Lynn added.

The decisions Lynn referred to are three straight defeats for vouchers in state courts in Wisconsin, Ohio and Vermont last year, in suits brought by Americans United and other civil liberties and education groups. Each of those decisions struck down vouchers, concluding that taxpayer financing of religious education violates constitutional protections separating church and state.

"People frequently forget that vouchers are more than bad public policy, they also raise serious constitutional concerns," Lynn said. "This bill's opponents extend far beyond the realm of teachers' unions. Anyone concerned with public tax dollars financing private religious education should be very disappointed with the outcome of today's vote."

While voucher legislation has been considered several times, H.R.1797 is the first voucher bill ever passed by the U.S. Congress. President Clinton has already indicated that the legislation will be vetoed, and it remains unclear if Congress will be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override that veto.

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.