Cleveland's voucher plan is constitutional, Supreme Court says in 5-4 decision
The Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program, which provides state-funded scholarships for students to attend private schools, "is a program of true private choice" since it allows parents to choose between religious and nonreligious schools, the Supreme Court ruled this morning. "It is neutral in all respects towards religion … The only preference in the program is for low-income families," wrote Chief Justice Rehnquist for the majority. "Any objective observer familiar with the full history and context of the Ohio program would reasonably view it as one aspect of a broader undertaking to assist poor children in failed schools, not as an endorsement of religious schooling in general." (The Freedom Forum offers good background on the case with a timeline. Cleveland's WKYC has video for those who don't like to read.)

"This was the Super Bowl for school choice and the kids won," said Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice, which represented provoucher parents in the case. … This is the day of sunshine we've battled for over the past 10 years. The constitutional cloud over school choice is finally lifted."

Both sides of the argument agreed that this decision would be of monumental importance, and called it the biggest education case since Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled segregation illegal. It will likely throw open the doors for educational voucher programs across the country, perhaps even federally (President Bush has supported vouchers, but his plans to include them in an education reform package were thwarted last year).

"The Supreme Court has given parents nationwide the hope that they, too, will soon have the power to rescue their children from failing schools," said Family Research Council President Ken Connor.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, agrees. "This is a landmark decision that will revolutionize the educational system in this country," he said in a press release. "The Supreme Court correctly … sent a clear message: school vouchers cannot be used to discriminate against religious schools."

Both the Family Research Council and the ACLJ filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case.

Faced with the loss, the National Education Association is taking a different tack: "Just because vouchers may be legal in some circumstances doesn't make them a good idea, "says NEA president Bob Chase. "Vouchers are a divisive and expensive diversion."

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Expect loads of commentary on this by tomorrow. Unlike yesterday's federal appeals court decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, all the advocacy groups were ready for this one.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again aims at San Diego's mountaintop cross
Banning the Pledge of Allegiance wasn't the only religion decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday. The court also voted 7-4 that the city of San Diego had improperly tried to preserve a 43-foot cross atop Mt. Soledad. The court itself noted that the battle over the cross has been a protracted one. In fact, the court has ruled on it before, saying that "the presence of the cross in a publicly owned park violates the California Constitution."

San Diego then sold the land to a veterans group (the cross is a war memorial) in an effort to solve the court's concern. But now the court says the city gave an unfair advantage to the veterans group in the sale. Since the city sold the land in an effort to keep the cross, groups that might have wanted to buy the land to tear down the cross had an unconstitutional disadvantage, the court said.

Because "the Mt. Soledad cross is a sectarian symbol that conveys a religious message," wrote judge Susan P. Graber, "governmental conduct that operates affirmatively to preserve the cross aids a sectarian purpose: the preservation of a symbol that conveys a specifically Christian message."

City Attorney Casey Gwinn tells The San Diego Union Tribune that the city is open to settlement discussions, but may appeal. When he talked to the Los Angeles Times, however, he had a bit more fight in him. "This [the cross] case has been going on for 13 years. … It's not likely to end any time soon," he said. "This is the same court that apparently found the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional."

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Life ethics:


  • B.C. church to keep rare, 400-year-old Bible | Members have been debating for almost a year over whether to keep the Bible, donate it to a university or sell it to help those in need (Religion News Service)

  • Book seeks to shift focus of Bible study | In Discordance with the Scriptures author Peter Thuesen urges fellow Protestants to stop obsessing over the historical accuracy of competing translations and read the Bible more for its literary value (The Boston Globe)



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