NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Court Strikes Down Vouchers On Church-State Grounds

June 2, 1999

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston has ruled against three sets of Maine parents who sought to use school vouchers to send their children to Catholic schools. Courts in other areas, however, have found no conflict with the separation of church and state doctrine in the matter of public money being used for students to attend church-related schools.

Legal scholars agree that the issue will have to be resolved eventually by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • The Catholic families were from a town which does not have enough students to support its own school.
  • Although Maine offers tuition to students in such areas, state law prohibits using the funds at religious schools.
  • The parents contended that excluding religious schools was discriminatory -- but a federal court last year sided with the state, setting up the appeal which upheld the lower court's decision yesterday.
  • Courts in Wisconsin and Arizona have ruled in favor of vouchers in church-state cases, and a decision is pending in Vermont.

Just last week, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Cleveland's school- voucher program is constitutional, but threw out the state's voucher law on a technicality.

Clint Bolick, of the Institute for Justice and a voucher supporter, found the Boston court's decision "redundant" of a ruling handed down by the Maine Supreme Court in April that excluded religious schools from state voucher money. "It adds nothing to the storehouse of decisions, the majority of which support school choice," he said.

Source: Andrea Billups, "Appeals Court Calls Vouchers Violation of Church-State Law," Washington Times, June 2, 1999.


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