Aid to Parochial Schools ; It Needs Safeguards before Courts Approve Vouchers

Article excerpt

In an important church-state decision, the Supreme Court may have opened a constitutional door for school vouchers.

Its 6-to-3 decision on Wednesday approved the spending of federal money for computers in religious schools. Four justices argued that courts need not determine if government aid to a school supports a religious mission as long as the intent was not to do so. Was the government just "neutral" in its motive?

This line of reasoning could easily apply to a voucher system where government money given to parents for spending on any school might, like computers, be used for both secular and religious purposes.

Two other justices who concurred with the decision, however, advised greater caution in letting official aid possibly support a religious cause. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said aid should supplement but not supplant money that a religion would otherwise spend on its programs.

That point is well taken. Religious instruction and doctrine are central to most parochial schools. How can aid such as computers or money not be diverted for religious teaching?

Government has always provided such public services as sewers, police, and health services to religious groups, as it does for the general public. …