Reform Jewish Movement Reacts to U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Consider Constitutionality of School Vouchers
Pelavin: "School vouchers would seriously threaten the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, making this case potentially the most important case about public schools and religious liberty in decades."
Contact: Alexis Rice or Elana Erdstein 202-387-2800
WASHINGTON, September 26, 2001- In response to yesterday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear three cases relating to the Cleveland voucher program, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Yesterday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of school voucher programs in Cleveland, Ohio marks a crucial point in the debate over government funding of private and parochial schools, and may well shape future public education in our nation. School vouchers would seriously threaten the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, making this case potentially the most important case about public schools and religious liberty in decades.
Last December, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Cleveland voucher program, stating that "there is no neutral aid when that aid principally flows to religious institutions." The Circuit Court made a clear statement that public funding of private religious education undermines the First Amendment. The Cleveland voucher program, which began as an experiment by the state of Ohio in 1996, gives certain families up to $2500 in tuition vouchers that can be used at private or parochial schools. Citing the fact that 96% of the 56 schools receiving voucher money have a religious affiliation, both the U.S. District and Circuit Courts ruled that such a program violates the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state.
As American Jews members of a religious minority we strive to protect our religious liberty through effective prohibitions on the establishment of religion. The Reform Jewish Movement has a long-standing tradition of supporting the maintenance and enhancement of the nation's public schools and opposing schemes to divert resources from them or to fund religious schools. We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will protect the future of public education, and the separation between church and state, by striking down the Cleveland plan, and we will continue to monitor this and other debates over school vouchers as they proceed.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaismis the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.