Sending the Kids to Religious Schools? Don't Count on Public Funding

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In legal circles, few issues are thought to be much thornier than the separation of church and state. But Tuesday, a U.S. district judge in Cincinnati dove right into the thorn bush, declaring Cleveland's four-year-old voucher system illegal. Although the program will continue until a higher court makes its ruling, Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. ruled that the voucher program — which allows families to send their children to private schools using public funds — is unconstitutional. Because most of the subsidized students attend religious schools, Oliver said, the vouchers provide taxpayer money for religious instruction. Ohio's attorney general vows to appeal the ruling, and many analysts expect the case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. "This is a hugely important case," says TIME senior reporter Alain Sanders. "It addresses the fundamental meaning of separation of church and state."

Proponents of funding students at religious schools argue that they are exercising their freedom of choice, and are merely seeking the best education for their children. Opponents of the voucher program contend that funneling taxpayer money into parochial schools is tantamount to funding church programs. At this point, it's anyone's ballgame: Although the Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case involving vouchers and religious schools in the Vermont state school system, the Justices are scheduled to rule by next summer on a similar case, and have given no indication of their leanings.