Supreme Court Ruling For Religious School Vouchers Shifts Battle To States, Congress, Says Au

Despite Court Ruling, Voucher Schemes Will Still Face Major Hurdles, Says AU's Lynn

Today's Supreme Court decision upholding a Cleveland religious school voucher program shifts the battle over this issue from the courts to the state legislatures and Congress, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"This battle is not over; it's just starting," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, one of the organizations that brought the challenge to Cleveland's voucher program before the high court. "This is a sad day for religious liberty and public education in America, but it does not spell the end of either."

Lynn said the court's 5-4 ruling was "the worst church-state ruling in 50 years," but added that supporters of the First Amendment and quality education can stop the mistake from spreading across the country.

"This is a wake-up call to taxpayers," Lynn said. "The Supreme Court thinks it's all right to force taxpayers to put their money in the coffers of religious schools. If Americans don't give their state legislators and members of Congress an earful, they may soon be paying taxes to support religious indoctrination."

Lynn noted that supporters of voucher schemes will likely use this ruling to encourage lawmakers nationwide to pass laws to force taxpayers to support religious schools.

"America, watch your wallet or it may end up in a collection plate," Lynn said.

Lynn pointed out that the court, by upholding vouchers in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, has not mandated that states offer voucher subsidies to religious schools. Rather, the justices have thrown the issue to Congress and the state legislatures to decide. He vowed that Americans United will redouble its efforts to fight voucher proposals and to keep them from becoming law.

"Americans United and allied organizations will do whatever it takes to see that taxpayers are not forced to support religious schools," Lynn vowed. "Civil liberties activists, public school advocates and progressive religious leaders will not take this misguided decision lying down."

Lynn said that despite the high court's ruling, there are many reasons to reject voucher schemes, among them:

* Vouchers do not spur academic improvement. Objective studies of existing voucher programs in the country have shown little or no academic improvement for voucher students.

* Many state constitutions contain strict prohibitions on public aid for religious institutions. While the Supreme Court has ruled on the legality of vouchers in relation to the federal Constitution, lawmakers nationwide will still need to consider state law. The majority of states have constitutions that strictly limit any public aid for religious ministries.

* Members of minority groups do not support vouchers.  In 2000, voters in California and Michigan voted on voucher proposals at the ballot box. Both were trounced -- 71 percent to 29 percent in California and 69 percent to 31 percent in Michigan. In California, polls showed that Hispanic voters were even more adamant in their rejection of the plan, voting 77 percent to 23 percent. African-American voters in California rejected vouchers 68 percent to 32 percent. In Michigan, blacks voted down vouchers 72 percent to 28 percent.

* The general public does not support vouchers. According to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released in August, when people were given the choice of moving to a voucher system or improving public education, 71 percent said they favor improving public education; only 27 percent opted for vouchers.

* Vouchers do not help poor families. Most vouchers are worth $1,500 to $3,000, yet private-school tuition can easily top $10,000 per year. Poor families would have no way to make up the difference. In Cleveland, a study showed that 33 percent of the families participating in the voucher plan had been sending their children to private schools before the program was implemented. Vouchers can easily end up becoming a subsidy for families who desire a private education at taxpayer expense.

* Vouchers detract from real school reform. Public education in some parts of the nation is troubled. Studies show what these schools need -- smaller class sizes and more resources. Vouchers detract from the goal of finding ways to give all students a quality education by offering a small number an opportunity to leave public schools. Ninety percent of American children attend public schools. Reform efforts must focus on helping everyone, not just a handful.

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.

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.