Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America — the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization — through its Institute for Public Affairs, filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Supreme Court of Ohio in support of the city of Cleveland’s pilot school voucher program. The brief was written by Institute for Public Affairs director Nathan Diament and Ms. Pam Scheininger, a law student at Columbia University.
The Pilot Scholarship Program grants up to $2,250 per child per year. The funds may be used at any school the child attends, including private and parochial schools, for tuition and other costs. The program has been challenged as unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as analogous provisions of the Ohio Constitution. Although a trial court rejected these challenges, an intermediate appellate court ruled the program unconstitutional. The question is now before the Ohio’s highest court.
The IPA brief contends that the program is constitutional because the purpose and primary effect of the program is secular to improve the education Cleveland’s low income children receive. Moreover, relying on a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last June, the brief argues that any benefits that flow to sectarian schools do so as a result of “the voluntary and private choices of individual parents” and are thus permissible under the Constitution.
“There is little question,” stated IPA director Nathan Diament, “that the pilot program is constitutional under recent precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court. That Court has concluded that the Establishment Clause must not be read to discriminate against religious individuals and institutions as long as they meet the same neutral criteria as everyone else. We are confident the Ohio Supreme Court will agree with this sensible reasoning and rule the Cleveland program constitutional.”