Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Do School Vouchers Violate the Prohibition on Government Funding of Religion by Making Public Money Available to Private Religious Schools?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Fielding Buck, in his Oct. 30, 2002 article “Knocking on The ‘Wall of Separation’: a Backgrounder on School Vouchers,” posted on FACSNET, wrote that:

“The [US Supreme Court] 2002 ruling [in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris], allows a school voucher program in Cleveland to channel public funds to private and religious schools…

Vouchers are designed to provide parents with alternatives to public education in communities where public schools are failing. Vouchers provide parents with tuition in order to send their children to private schools.

Proponents of vouchers say they rescue children and challenge public schools to do a better job. Critics say vouchers siphon needed funding from public schools and endanger the foundation of the public school system…

Voucher systems that provide tuition to religious schools have been challenged as a violation of the Establishment Clause…

The voucher program gives participants scholarships to attend private schools, scholarships to attend charter schools in other districts, or money for tutoring if students stayed in the school district. Scholarship checks are made out to parents, but not sent to them directly. The checks go to the private schools, where parents must appear to endorse them.”

Oct. 30, 2002

PRO (yes)


The American Civil Liberties Union undersigned a Sep. 20, 2004 letter to the United States Senate posted on its website, titled “The National Coalition for Public Education Sign-on Letter to the US Senate Appropriation Committee Urging Opposition to Continued Funding of Private School Voucher Program for the District of Columbia,” that stated:

“[W]here voucher funds may be used for sectarian educational purposes, a voucher program could require taxpayers to support instruction in religions that may be contrary to their own. In addition to compromising religious freedom, private school vouchers also threaten the autonomy of religious schools.”

Sep. 20, 2004


Nadine Strossen, JD, President of the ACLU, wrote in her July 22, 1999 article “Florida’s A+ Plan for School Vouchers Deserves an F,” published on, that:

“Not only have voucher schemes failed to actually promote their asserted aim of aiding public-school students; worse yet, they have done precisely the opposite, draining public schools of much- needed funds.

The millions of taxpayer dollars spent to send a relatively few public-school students to private — and disproportionately parochial — schools instead could have helped lower the class size for all public-school students, which experts endorse as the most effective strategy for increasing student achievement, especially for poor and minority students.

Because vouchers provide more benefits to sectarian schools than to public-school students, they violate the First Amendment’s core, historic prohibition on government funding of religious institutions.”

July 22, 1999


The American Jewish Committee (AJC) wrote in a 2004 position paper titled “Religious Liberty & Church-State Relations,” posted on its website, that:

“AJC believes that the use of public funds to provide vouchers with which students may attend primary and secondary parochial schools is in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and therefore unconstitutional.”



Robert Marus wrote in a July 2, 2002 article about the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case titled “Supreme Court Upholds Ohio Voucher Scheme,” published by the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs:

“Souter and other dissenting justices also said a $2,500 cap on scholarship assistance ‘has the effect of curtailing the participation of nonreligious schools,’ because secular private schools usually charge higher tuition than church-subsidized parochial schools.

Souter said many low-income families would be coerced to choose a religious school with which they might disagree over a secular private school that they cannot afford.”

July 2, 2002

CON (no)


The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life posted on its web site (accessed Dec. 29, 2004) the following information:

“The U.S. Supreme Court [in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris] majority held that the [voucher] program was ‘neutral in all respects toward religion,’ that any tax funds flowing to religious schools did so as a result of individual choice and that the program provided genuine secular schooling options.”

Dec. 29, 2004


The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) posted the following information on its website (accessed Dec. 29, 2004):

“‘Isn’t giving tax dollars to religious schools unconstitutional?’
Not so long as the money goes to parents, who are then free to choose either religious or non-religious schools for their children. The Founding Fathers would not have believed that giving parents the power to choose private schools meant ‘establishing’ religion.”

Dec. 29, 2004


Tanya L. Green wrote in a June 27, 2002 article titled “Court Says Cleveland School Voucher Program is Constitutional,” written for Concerned Women for America (CWA), that:

“‘To say that it violates the Establishment Clause to allow parents to choose whether to use the voucher in a public, private or religious school isn’t supportable by either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent,’ said Jan LaRue, chief counsel with Concerned Women for America. ‘As the late Justice Thurgood Marshall stated in Witters v. Washington, ‘In this case, the fact that aid goes to individuals means that the decision to support religious education is made by the individual, not by the State.'”

June 27, 2002


Nathan J. Diament wrote in a June 16, 2000 article “Want Social Justice? Try Vouchers,” for the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) website, that:

“The separation of church and state is another principle to which the American Jewish community is committed, but this principle has been taken to the extreme; properly considered, it does not proscribe vouchers… To give a government-funded voucher to a parent to ‘spend’ at the public, private or parochial school of their choice is no more a governmental establishment of religion than allowing a Medicare beneficiary to seek their treatment (which the government will pay for) at the public, private or parochial hospital of their choice.”

June 16, 2000