Dec 09, 2003

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today criticized the House of Representatives for approving a wide-ranging legislative package that includes voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in the District of Columbia.

The House voted 242-176 to approve the omnibus spending package Dec. 8.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said the House has made a serious mistake.

"Voucher schemes divert scarce dollars from our public school system to private religious schools," Lynn said. "They are bad for religion, bad for public education and bad for the taxpayers."

Lynn called on the Senate to reject the omnibus bill. The $328-billion legislative package is controversial because it contains many pork-barrel provisions. The Senate is not scheduled to debate the legislation until next month.

The voucher provision of the bill would earmark $14 million for a five-year plan described as a pilot project. If passed, vouchers worth up to $7,500 will be used to pay for tuition for some students to attend religious and other private schools. The plan will be administered by a private organization selected by U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige.

Lynn said the scheme is fraught with constitutional problems and asked AU members and other voucher opponents to urge senators to reject the omnibus legislation.

"This bill has become a pork-laden Christmas tree that threatens to catch fire and burn up the Constitution," Lynn said. "Americans United calls on the Senate to extinguish this dangerous legislation and focus strictly on improving D.C.'s public schools."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State 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.