Supreme Court to Hear School Voucher Case
July 7, 2008 - 8:19 PM
(CNSNews.com) - Supporters and opponents of school vouchers are sharpening their swords in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Tuesday decision to hear the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.
The case involves the Ohio program, which offers $2,500 school vouchers to qualified low-income parents in the Cleveland public school system so their children can attend the private or parochial school of their choice.
The issue of school vouchers for low-income families in Ohio has been through both state and federal courts, and the state legislature has even re-tooled some of the provisions in the state's program to try and satisfy certain judicial concerns.
Both sides are convinced that this case could be a landmark decision in the area of church-state relations once the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case.
"It is going to be a very important case because it is going to give us an answer to what we have been wondering about for a long time," said Rob Boston, assistant director of communications with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), a group that opposes vouchers for low-income families.
"This case dealing with secondary education is significant because they have never squarely decided upon the voucher issue," said Boston.
Jay Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, also considers this case significant because of the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously refused to decide the constitutionality of school vouchers.
"I think that the Supreme Court decided to take this case in light of the fact [that] the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the program," said Sekulow, whose group supports school vouchers. "I think that it is a good time for us, at least the court is going to engage the issue.
"The court is going to have to decide the issue squarely," said Sekulow, who believes the high court will rule that vouchers are constitutional. "I think that it's going to be a close case, [and] I think our side is going to prevail."
Just as U.S. military veterans have been eligible for education benefits at private and religious colleges and universities since World War II, he argues that "the government isn't making the actual educational choice for the student, it is up to the parent."
But AU believes vouchers present a problem because parochial elementary and secondary schools can include religion in their curriculum, and Boston rejected Sekulow's contention that the taxpayer has a freedom of choice.
"In Ohio there really isn't any free choice," Boston said. "The check is actually written to the private school, the parent goes to the school and signs it over."
"That is government aid to a religious institution no matter how you slice it," he said. "In this instance parents are really just conduits through which tax aid flows to religious education."
U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson filed a brief in the case on behalf of the federal government, stating that the U.S. Supreme Court should review the case because of "conflict and confusion among the federal and state courts," over the question of whether vouchers for low-income families violate the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court is not expected to hear the case before January 2002 because it hasn't yet been scheduled and court dates for the rest of this year are already filled, according to a Supreme Court spokesman who spoke on background.