- June 1 - The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that voucher-style
subsidies for private religious schools are unconstitutional. Americans United
for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups that participated in the
lawsuit, praised the position of the federal court and heralded the decision as
a huge victory for church-state separation.
is the highest court ever to hear a voucher case, and the justices found vouchers
unconstitutional," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
"It is a monumental ruling in the battle over taxpayer support of religious
decision is certain to have a huge impact on the debate. It's a whole new ballgame
now," Lynn added.
In Maine, the
state provides tuition for students to attend any school in districts that do
not have their own public schools. Religious schools are excluded as part of this
program to avoid constitutional difficulties. In Strout v. Albanese, parents
represented by TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice
sued the state arguing the exclusion of religious schools amounted to discrimination.
In August 1998,
a federal district court ruled in favor of the state, saying that parents were
free to choose a religious school, but the taxpayers could not be forced to "subsidize
The Court of
Appeals upheld that decision in a ruling issued Thursday, and took it one step
further. The court majority rejected parental demands for religious school vouchers
ruling that such a program would violate the separation of church and state.
barrier that has existed between church and state throughout the life of the Republic
has up to the present acted as an insurmountable impediment to the direct payments
or subsidies by the state to sectarian institutions, particularly in the context
of primary and secondary schools...." said Chief Judge Juan Torruella, writing
for the court majority. "Writ simple, the state cannot be in the business
of directly supporting religious schools."
the position of the court majority. "The Court of Appeals correctly recognized
that taxpayers should never be forced to finance private religious education,"
follows closely behind the Maine Supreme Court, which also ruled against vouchers
on April 26, 1999 in a separate case dealing with identical issues.
is one of several civil liberties and educational organizations that participated
in this case. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and
allied houses of worship in all 50 states. AU has been a part of legal challenges
to every voucher program passed in the country.