[Vision2020] 08-16-04 Breaking CNN: Court rules religious school voucher law unconstitutional

Art Deco aka W. Fox deco at moscow.com
Mon Aug 16 13:18:14 PDT 2004

Court rules religious school voucher law unconstitutional

Monday, August 16, 2004 Posted: 2:27 PM EDT (1827 GMT)

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) -- A Florida law that allows students at failing
public schools to attend private religious schools at taxpayers' expense is
unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled Monday.

The 2-1 decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal upholds a ruling by a trial
judge saying the state constitution forbids the use of tax money to send
youngsters to religious schools.

"Courts do not have the authority to ignore the clear language of the
Constitution, even for a popular program with a worthy purpose," Judge William
Van Nortwick wrote in the decision.

Education Commissioner Jim Horne called the ruling unfortunate and said it would
be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The law has been enforced as the case
makes its way through the courts.

Attorney Barry Richard, who represented the state, said the ruling did not
address the state's main argument -- that the law is neutral to religion and if
found unconstitutional would violate the "free exercise" of religion promise in
the U.S. Constitution.

Ron Meyer, a lawyer for opponents of the law, said the decision was
comprehensive and makes it easy for the state Supreme Court to reach a similar

Under the 1999 law -- the centerpiece of Gov. Jeb Bush's education policies -- 
students attending public schools that earn failing grades two years out of four
are eligible for vouchers to private schools, including religious schools.

Voucher opponents, including the state teacher's union, the Florida PTA and the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, challenged the law
in court the day after Bush signed it in 1999.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court swept aside a major hurdle to voucher programs,
ruling such uses of tax dollars do not violate the separation of church and
state required by the U.S. Constitution.

Still, the judge in the lower court ruling said the voucher program violates
Florida's constitution, which bans the use of tax dollars on religious schools.

About 600 students in a handful of Florida counties attended private schools on
vouchers last year. Voucher students there may be taught religion, but may not
be forced to pray, worship or profess a religious belief.

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