Vouchers Require Taxpayer Funding For Religious Indoctrination, Says Americans United

State-Supported Religion Is Unconstitutional, Group Charges

Private school voucher plans force Americans to pay taxes to support religious indoctrination and thus should be struck down by the Supreme Court, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, a case testing the constitutionality of Cleveland's private school voucher plan. Americans United, which helped bring the legal challenge to the Cleveland program, has asked the high court to declare voucher aid to church schools a violation of church-state separation.

"If the Supreme Court upholds this plan, Americans will be forced to support religious indoctrination," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Taxpayers will have to pay for everything from buying Bibles to constructing chapels at religious schools."

Continued Lynn, "Religious schools and other ministries should always be supported with voluntary contributions. Taxpayers should never be forced to place their money into the collection plates of churches."

Lynn noted that recent world events provide a valuable lesson on the importance of church-state separation.

"Government-sponsored religion is a recipe for disaster," Lynn said. "Recent events have underscored that point clearly."

Lynn also noted that supporters of vouchers are trying to portray government support for religious schools as a civil rights issue. This is ironic, Lynn said, since vouchers were first used in the South during the 1960s as a device to get around court-mandated racial integration of the public schools.

"Voucher supporters don't want anyone to know that vouchers were used to prop up segregationist academies 40 years ago," Lynn said. "Courts saw through that ruse and struck it down. I hope the justices strike this scheme down, too."

Lynn said voucher boosters are misleading the press and public about the issue. He noted the following facts:

* 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. Pro-voucher organizations have released stacked studies that purport to show improvement, but last year the General Accounting Office of the federal government issued a report stating that none of the existing studies of voucher programs can be considered definitive because of discrepancies in the data.

* Members of minority groups do not support vouchers. In November of 2000, voters in California and Michigan voted on voucher proposals at the ballot box. Both were trounced -- 71 percent to 29 in California and 69 percent to 31 percent. In California, exit polls showed that Hispanic voters were even more adamant in their rejection of the plan, voting it down 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.

* No federal court has ever upheld a voucher plan. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld certain forms of "indirect" aid to religious schools but has never approved vouchers. The high court struck down a voucher-like plan from New York in 1973's PEARL v. Nyquist. Federal appeals courts have also ruled vouchers unconstitutional on church-state grounds.

* 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 high 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.