Many misguided conservatives are hailing the Supreme Court's June 27th decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris as a victory for school choice -- a euphemism for a government voucher system that parents can use to pay their children's tuition. In a July 11th editorial in the Washington Post, Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) lavishly praised the decision: "The court's decision confirms that the ability to choose the best school available, be it public or private, is a freedom that should be enjoyed by all Americans, not just those who can afford it."
The high court's decision upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring program, which offers tuition aid for low-income students to attend participating public or private schools, including religious schools. It was this latter category that had been challenged by one Doris Simmons-Harris and others, based on the by-now-tedious "Establishment Clause" argument. The ruling enjoining the program had been granted by the Federal District Court and affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Supreme Court's opinion by Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted that the Cleveland program "is one of true private choice, consistent with the Mueller [v. Allen] line of cases, and thus constitutional."
Reaction to the decision was emphatic and appeared to follow "liberal/conservative" patterns: Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, ranted: "The Supreme Court has taken a wrecking ball to the wall of separation between church and state. This is clearly the worst church-state decision in the past 50 years." Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said vouchers are "bad education policy, and we will continue to fight efforts to introduce them into public education."
Those applauding the decision included free-market economist Milton Friedman, who said: "The market will respond fully and rapidly to the increased demand for private schools generated by the expansion of vouchers for elementary and secondary education." And President Bush, exercising his best down-home, conservative-sounding rhetoric, observed: "The Supreme Court of the United States gave a great victory to parents and students throughout the nation by upholding the decisions made by local folks here in the city of Cleveland, Ohio."
Coming a day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' June 26th ruling prohibiting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, perhaps God-fearing conservatives had a gut feeling that Zelman v. Simmons-Harris was a step in the right direction -- a point on the scoreboard for "God's team' so to speak. …