ACLU Calls Supreme Court Ruling on Vouchers "Bad for Education, Bad for Religious Freedom"

June 27, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU Calls Supreme Court Ruling on Vouchers “Bad for Education, Bad for Religious Freedom”


NEW YORK–The Supreme Court today narrowly voted to uphold a voucher scheme that funnels public money overwhelmingly to religious private schools.

“Today’s decision is bad for education and bad for religious freedom,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. “Today’s decision is not the last word, however. Fortunately, the American public appears much less willing than the Court to use taxpayer dollars to fund religious indoctrination.”

In recent elections, Shapiro noted, voters in California and Michigan as well as at least 26 state legislatures soundly rejected voucher schemes. The Republican-dominated 106th Congress also failed to pass a voucher bill in 1999.

In the consolidated cases of Zelman, et al. v. Simmons-Harris, Nos. 00-1751, 00-1777 & 00-1779, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote reversed a 2001 federal appeals court ruling invalidating Cleveland’s voucher program. In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Souter criticized the majority opinion as “a dramatic departure from basic Establishment Clause principle.”

Although the majority characterized vouchers as a way of promoting parental choice, the private school choices offered to parents in these voucher programs are typically quite limited. In Cleveland, for example, 96 percent of the students in the voucher program attended parochial schools.

That statistic is even more troubling given the findings of the first analysis of federal data on private school enrollment showing that private religious schools, particularly Roman Catholic ones, are more racially segregated than public schools.

“Despite what advocates of vouchers may say, we cannot rescue troubled public schools by providing a way for students to abandon public schools,” said Chris Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio, which together with a broad coalition of other groups has been challenging the Cleveland voucher program since its inception. “Sadly, this decision essentially defunds Cleveland’s public schools and leaves parents who want vouchers with no options but parochial education for their children.”

The answer to troubled schools is not to funnel public funds to private institutions, but to force states to improve public education for all children, the ACLU said. For example, as a result of an educational equity lawsuit brought by the ACLU in Maryland, a settlement was reached last month that will bring an increase of public education funding by at least $1.1 billion over five years.

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