Scholar Says Vouchers Constitutional
Speaking before a handful of students at Quincy House, Sonne said religious schools have been discriminated against. He said a “neutrality principle” should allow the state to give school vouchers to students so they can attend religious schools.
This practice has come under fire recently, with a February Supreme Court case, Simmons-Harris vs. Zelman, regarding the constitutionality of a Cleveland school voucher program. The program gave 82 percent of its vouchers to students attending religious schools, Sonne said.
The lower courts had deemed the voucher program unconstitutional, saying it gave preference to one religion over another.
Sonne said he expects the Supreme Court to return a verdict in the case in June.
He defended the voucher program Friday, saying the vouchers are “neutral aid, so [they] shouldn’t be considered unconstitutional.”
“These schools have something to offer that is not just religious, but secular as well,” Sonne said. “Neutrality is the clearest way to interpret the constitution without discrimination on the basis of religion.”
Sonne gave the current debate historical context, outlining a number of Supreme Court cases involving questions of financing religious schools.
“Courts have historically limited finances for faith-based schools,” Sonne said.
He said states are generally reluctant to give religious schools technological assistance, vouchers and tax-exempt bond financing.
Sonne said that the Lemon Test—a method for determining whether the government should give financial aid—has resulted in discrimination against faith-based schools.
According to Sonne, Supreme Court rulings have made a shift in recent years toward allowing financing of religious schools.
The Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Mitchell vs. Helms, for example, allowed religious schools to receive publicly funded computer and technological assistance, Sonne said.