Voucher proponents suffer setback in Maine court ruling

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (JTA) — Supporters of vouchers for parochial schools have lost one of their most promising legal cases. A federal judge in Maine last week ruled against three families seeking to collect tuition for Roman Catholic schools from their town. With many small hamlets in the state lacking their own public school system, local governments commonly pay tuition at nearby public and private schools. But the towns, including Minot, which has a population of some 1,600 people, including the three families, draw the line at religious schools. The chief judge of the Federal District Court for Maine agreed. While the plaintiffs can send their children to any school they choose, “they do not have the right to require taxpayers to subsidize that choice,” Judge Brock Hornby wrote in his ruling. Many voucher proponents saw the Maine case as a good chance to win in court because the state already allows the town to reimburse parents for private school tuition. Most Jewish organizations oppose vouchers because of the concern that they violate the constitutional separation between church and state. Many also worry about their impact on public education. But many Orthodox and politically conservative Jews argue that vouchers are needed to provide better access to Jewish day school education, which many believe can help fight the Jewish continuity crisis. “In effect, Judge Hornby has held that the United States Constitution requires that a state discriminate against parents who wish to send their children to religious schools and not to afford them a subsidy that they provide all other parents,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America’s Institute for Public Affairs. Diament, who called the decision deeply troubling, said his organization will support an appeal. But Marc Stern, the co-director of the legal department at the American Jewish Congress, said the Maine case “legally is not a big deal.” “The judge ruled that you can’t force a government to fund something it does not want to,” he said. Legal activists on both sides of the issue agree that the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the issue.

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