Dec 11, 2001

The U.S. Supreme Court should strike down a voucher plan that subsidizes religious schools in Cleveland because tax support for religion violates the First Amendment, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and allied organizations argue in a legal brief filed today.

Americans United and the other organizations asserted that the voucher program provides unrestricted government aid to religious schools that are free to use the money for religious purposes.

Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "Churches and church schools should be supported with voluntary contributions, not taxes. No American should be forced to pay taxes to support religious instruction. It's a gross violation of fundamental constitutional rights."

Plaintiffs in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case include parents and taxpayers from Ohio. They are being represented by attorneys for Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Education Association, the Ohio Education Association and People For the American Way.

The Ohio Pilot Project Scholarship Program pays for tuition at religious and private schools for students in Cleveland. While suburban public schools are allowed to join in the scheme, none has done so. Nearly 96 percent of students participating in the plan are enrolled at religious schools.

The brief filed at the high court today says the program clearly violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"Under the program," the brief asserts, "participating sectarian private schools receive millions of dollars in...unrestricted aid with which the schools defray the costs of providing a religious education that indoctrinates the schools' students into the beliefs of a particular faith."

Americans United has been involved with the Cleveland conflict since its inception. The case will be argued before the high court Feb. 20. A decision is expected by July.

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.