Facts About Vouchers
Cleveland, OH Voucher Program
As many who oppose vouchers believe, with government funds should come government regulations, including regulations intended to ensure that public funds are not used to subsidize discrimination. In his dissenting opinion in Zelman, Justice Souter forecast a number of problems that may arise in Cleveland as a result of the voucher program and the state’s efforts to prevent its funds from being used for impermissible purposes. For example, the Ohio voucher statute prohibits voucher schools from discriminating “on the basis of…religion.”25 As Justice Souter noted, this clearly means that religious voucher schools “may not give admission preferences to children who are members of the patron faith.”26 But as Justice Souter also noted, the provision is not limited to admissions policies and thus, “by its terms, a participating religious school may well be forbidden to choose a member of its own clergy to serve as a teacher or principal over a layperson of a different religion claiming equal qualification for the job.”27 Religious schools that accept voucher monies are likely to argue that such a law infringes on their First Amendment rights, and Justice Souter predicted that the courts will inevitably be drawn into disputes about whether the employment practices of religious schools violate the Ohio law.28
Another requirement imposed by the Ohio voucher law is that voucher schools must not “teach hatred of any person or group on the basis of…religion.”29 According to Justice Souter, this provision “could be understood (or subsequently broadened) to prohibit religions from teaching traditionally legitimate articles of faith as to the error, sinfulness, or ignorance of others, if they want government money for their schools.”30 These examples by Justice Souter are illustrative of the potential harm to religion that can be caused by the provision of public funds to religious institutions, accompanied by reasonable and legitimate restrictions on the use of those funds. Indeed, the avoidance of such governmental interference with religion is one important reason for the separation of church and state.