Dec 03, 2003

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today praised a Colorado State judge for invalidating a statewide school voucher law that was set to take effect next year.

This spring, Americans United along with the ACLU of Colorado, the National Education Association and other public interest groups brought suit against the school voucher law on a number of state constitutional grounds. The groups represented Colorado parents, clergy and taxpayers.

Today District Judge Joseph Meyer issued an injunction barring the voucher law from taking effect, saying it violated a section of the state constitution that requires local school boards to maintain significant control over funding of district schools.

"Local school boards should not be placed under a state-issued mandate to fund religious or other private schools," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "State lawmakers and pro-voucher lobbying groups were so bent on ramming a statewide voucher system into law that they overlooked the legitimate interests of local school officials. This ruling reinforces the state constitutional right of local school boards to maintain control over funding of public education."

The voucher law, called the Colorado Opportunity Contract Pilot Program, requires 11 school districts to participate and allows others to join. The vouchers for tuition at religious and other private schools were to be available to low-income students who attend public schools deemed "unsatisfactory" in at least one academic area.

Meyer wrote in Colorado PTA v. Owens that he saw "no way to interpret the voucher program statute in a way that does not run afoul of the principle of local control embodied in" the state constitution.

Lynn added that the ruling was also a victory for those concerned about state funding of sectarian schools.

"Religious Right pressure groups are working overtime to do away with public schools in favor of religious schools supported by public financing," Lynn said.

The Institute for Justice, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, D.C., is helping the state defend the law and said Meyer's ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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.