- August 5 - In a closely watched case with national significance, a Florida court
ruled today that voucher aid to religious schools violates the Florida state constitution.
Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey of Tallahassee ruled that the constitution is
"clear and unambiguous" in preventing tax support for sectarian institutions,
including religious schools. A state program that pays for tuition for some students
at religious schools violates that mandate, Davey ruled in Holmes v. Bush.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and allied organizations
brought the challenge to the Florida program, which was initiated by Gov. Jeb
Bush. Bush and his brother, President George W. Bush, are strong advocates of
voucher schemes that benefit private education.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court held that voucher programs that aid religious
schools do not violate the church-state provisions of the U.S. Constitution. However,
over two thirds of the states have state constitutions that are more explicit
in their prohibition of tax support for religion.
Article 1, Section 3 of Florida's state constitution, for example, says, "No
revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever
be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church,
sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, said the decision will have national implications.
"The Florida court's decision shows that the battle over vouchers is far
from over," Lynn said. "I expect to see similar decisions against vouchers
in state courts around the country.
"The Bush brothers' plan to funnel funds to religious schools just ran
into a major roadblock," Lynn added.
Lynn noted that voucher programs are unpopular with most Americans. In ballot
referenda in 2000 voters from every racial, religious, socio-economic and political
group voted against giving tax aid to religious schools.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington,
D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance
of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.