High Court Hears Arguments on Ohio Vouchers; ACLU Says Decision Will Have Nationwide Impact

February 19, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow on the constitutionality of school voucher schemes in a set of cases that presents the Justices with one of the most vexing social issues confronting the nation, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

“The simple fact is that the Supreme Court has never approved such a massive program of public aid for religious instruction in its history,” said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU Legal Director. “And it could not do so now without dramatically reforming our modern understanding of the constitutional prohibition against government funding of religion.”

Although the Court’s decision on vouchers is likely to have a nationwide impact, the cases before the Justices are from Cleveland, which has seen its voucher program struck down as unconstitutional by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2000.

The ACLU of Ohio, together with a broad coalition of other groups, has been challenging the Cleveland voucher program since its inception. Because the overwhelming majority of students in the program attend religious schools, the voucher program has had the effect of transferring taxpayers’ money to predominantly religious schools.

In December 1999, a federal district court judge said that the Cleveland voucher program represented a scheme by which government funds were used to support religious programs. And after an exhaustive review of the facts, the Court of Appeals noted that the program provides few choices for students other than religious institutions and few incentives for non-religious schools to participate.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals said: “There is no neutral aid when that aid principally flows to religious institutions; nor is there truly `private choice’ when the available choices resulting from the program are predominantly religious.”

“The Cleveland voucher program,” Shapiro said, “is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to provide public funding to religious schools. We will urge the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the program for what it is and act accordingly.”

The case is Zelman, et al. v. Simmons-Harris, Nos. 00-1751, 00-1777 & 00-1779.

Click here to view the ACLU’s legal brief

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