NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Voucher Supporters Will Be Watching Court's Computer Case

October 4, 1999

As the Supreme Court reconvenes today, proponents of school vouchers will be watching closely a case which doesn't concern vouchers at all. It involves a suit filed 14 years ago by a group of New Orleans parents challenging the federal government's aid to parochial schools.

  • The controversy can be traced back to the 1960s when several federal education programs were consolidated into one block grant to states for school library resources and textbooks.
  • Because those items were secular in nature, they were also provided to parochial schools -- the theory being that they couldn't be used for religious education and thus wouldn't infringe on the separation of church and state doctrine.
  • But the items were found to include computers -- which the parents contended could provide access over the Internet to religious instruction.
  • If the court -- which so far has not spelled out clear rules in this area -- finds that federal largess in providing computers to religious schools is constitutional, that could signal how it would regard vouchers, which could be used at schools with religious affiliations.

Prior to this decade, the Supreme Court had hewed to a strict line separating church and state. But in 1995, it ruled that a state university that subsidized student publications must also provide an equal subsidy to a student religious publication.

Then in 1997, it held that the federal government may pay public school employees to provide remedial instruction in religious schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Source: Robert S. Greenberger, "Case May Sketch Justice's Thinking on School Vouchers," Wall Street Journal, October 4, 1999.

 

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