Supreme Test: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Landmark Ohio Case Challenging Voucher Subsidies for Religious Schools. (Cover Story)

By Boston, Rob | Church & State, November 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Supreme Test: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Landmark Ohio Case Challenging Voucher Subsidies for Religious Schools. (Cover Story)

Boston, Rob, Church & State

Cleveland mom Dorris Simmons-Harris didn't start out to make legal history. She was just looking for a fair shake for her son.

The year was 1995, and Ohio legislators had just enacted a voucher bill aimed at Cleveland residents. The law-makers talked a good line, telling parents of inner-city children attending troubled public schools that they would receive an education at religious and other private schools at state expense.

Simmons-Harris was skeptical and believed that her son, who suffers from a learning disability, would not be welcomed with open arms at the private schools that were suddenly being showered with tax dollars.

"I was discussing with some friends of mine about the voucher [program], how it doesn't help all children," Simmons-Harris said. "Special-needs children are left behind."

Simmons-Harris was especially angry because the voucher program would siphon money away from already strapped public schools. "The public schools need that money," she said.

But Simmons-Harris did more than just gripe. She agreed to serve as lead plaintiff in a lawsuit designed to end the program as an unconstitutional violation of separation of church and state, and now she will make legal history. On Sept. 25, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear Simmons-Harris' case.

Legal observers say the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision could be a blockbuster. For the first time, the high court has agreed to face the issue of vouchers head on. The repercussions from the court's ruling could be wide-ranging, either slamming the door on vouchers for good or opening up a new era of government-funded religion in the United States.

Just minutes after the high court announcement, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told reporters, "This is probably the most important church-state case in the last half-century. It will be a historic showdown over government funding of religion."

Lynn added that Americans United, which helped bring the challenge to the Ohio plan, will urge the justices to strike down the voucher scheme. "Voucher programs force taxpayers to put money in the collection plates of churches," he said. "The court should never permit this to happen. The justices should uphold church-state separation and rule forcefully against this reckless scheme."

Legal observers agree that the dispute bears close watching. "Aside from threatening the continued viability of our public schools, a pro-voucher decision by the Supreme Court would give a significant practical and legal boost to the `faith-based initiatives' being proposed," said Ayesha Khan, Americans United legal director. "Such a decision would blow a hole through the wall that separates church and state."

Steven K. Green, former legal director for Americans United and a leading national authority on the church-state implications of vouchers, concurs. "This case is likely the most important private school funding case in more than 50 years," he said. "It could authorize massive funding of religious and parochial schools through the side door. Other funding programs the court has upheld were at least somewhat limited in their amounts and uses. Voucher funds, on the other hand, pay for entire educational costs for the children -- and sometimes more -- and can be used for any activity including worship, catechism, or the purchase of Bibles."

The high court's action comes amidst ongoing national controversy over vouchers. Other than Ohio, only Wisconsin and Florida have programs, and neither is truly statewide. The Wisconsin program is limited to Milwaukee, and Florida's plan, while theoretically statewide, currently operates only in Pensacola.

Legislators in several states considered voucher bills last year, and although recent public opinion polls show support for the concept slipping, proposals appear regularly in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, New Mexico, California, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Michigan, Virginia and others.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Supreme Test: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Landmark Ohio Case Challenging Voucher Subsidies for Religious Schools. (Cover Story)


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?