Jun 09, 1998

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled today that publicly funded voucher subsidies for private religious schools are constitutional. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups that sponsored the lawsuit against the Wisconsin voucher program, criticized the decision as a defeat for individual freedom and vowed to appeal.

"This decision forces taxpayers to support private religious education," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Today's ruling strikes at the heart of the First Amendment, ignores the language of the state constitution and overlooks every other court ruling on public funding of religion. Anyone concerned with church-state separation should be shocked and disappointed."

In Warner Jackson v. Benson, a district court ruled in January 1997 that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) may not pay tuition at religious schools. In August, a state Court of Appeals agreed, citing the Wisconsin Constitution prohibition on taxpayer funding of religious instruction (Art. 1, Sec. 18). Today, the state's Supreme Court overturned that ruling.

"This certainly isn't over," Lynn said. "Today's ruling will be appealed. The court's decision is hardly surprising. Governor Tommy Thompson, a determined voucher advocate, appointed a specific state supreme court justice with this case specifically in mind."

Lynn noted that this ruling is not in line with state court decisions in Ohio, Vermont and Maine where voucher aid to religious schools was struck down.