School Vouchers: Past Lessons and Future Prospects - The Implications of Government "Strings" on Vouchers
Engage Volume 3, October 2002 Supplement
February 15, 2008Michael Paulson, Charles Rice
MS. SMITH: It certainly has been an interesting week for religion in the news. We heard from the 9th Circuit, at least a panel of it, that public school kids can’t say the words “under God.” And now we’ve heard from the Supreme Court that at least certain kinds of school vouchers like the ones in Cleveland are constitutional in that they don’t violate the Establishment Clause. Now comes the next round of debate and the next round of litigation. If vouchers are okay in private schools, what kind of strings can come with them? What must be done by religious schools that accept voucher money? I thought it was very interesting, even in the Zelman decision, that they noted that the Cleveland program places certain restrictions on private schools that accept that money. Although this was not a topic of that decision, I think it will be an interesting part of the next round of debate. What they say is that private schools must agree not to discriminate based on race, religion or ethnic background, or to advocate or foster unlawful behavior or teach hatred of any person or group based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. It sounds pretty nice on its face, but as we get deeply into it, will this raise issues of unconstitutional conditions? For instance, can private schools that accept voucher money ask for the baptism records of kids? Can they ask for the religious denomination of the kids’ parents? Can Catholic schools prevent Protestant kids from taking communion? Are all of those things hatred, or are they some sort of improper discrimination based on religion? That’ll be the next round of constitutional questions, or some of them at least, that are likely to follow and be raised as vouchers are increasingly accepted by religious schools.