Zelman v. Simons: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Ohio Financial Help to Religious Schools

Zelman v. Simons: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Ohio Financial Help to Religious Schools

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Argued: Zelman v. Simmons-Harris - The Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that a Cleveland, Ohio, program which spent large amounts of public money on subsidizing education at religious schools is constitutional.

According to the Supreme Court, taxpayer funding of education at religious schools is constitutional if the government does not specifically encourage parents to send their kids to religious schools. In such a situation, the law is neutral with regards to religion:

"...the Ohio program is neutral in all respects toward religion. It is part of a general and multifaceted undertaking by the State of Ohio to provide educational opportunities to the children of a failed school district. It confers educational assistance directly to a broad class of individuals defined without reference to religion, i.e., any parent of a school-age child who resides in the Cleveland City School District.

The program permits the participation of all schools within the district, religious or nonreligious. Adjacent public schools also may participate and have a financial incentive to do so. Program benefits are available to participating families on neutral terms, with no reference to religion."

In his dissent, Justice Stevens argues:

"Religious teaching at taxpayer expense simply cannot be cordoned from taxpayer politics, and every major religion currently espouses social positions that provoke intense opposition.

Not all taxpaying Protestant citizens, for example,will be content to underwrite the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church condemning the death penalty. Nor will all of America's Muslims acquiesce in paying for the endorsement of the religious Zionism taught in many religious Jewish schools, which combines "a nationalistic sentiment" in support of Israel with a "deeply religious" element. Nor will every secular taxpayer be content to support Muslim views on differential treatment of the sexes, or, for that matter, to fund the espousal of a wife's obligation of obedience to her husband, presumably taught in any schools adopting the articles of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Views like these, and innumerable others, have been safe in the sectarian pulpits and classrooms of this Nation not only because the Free Exercise Clause protects them directly, but because the ban on supporting religious establishment has protected free exercise, by keeping it relatively private. With the arrival of vouchers in religious schools, that privacy will go, and along with it will go confidence that religious disagreement will stay moderate."
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