- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

Religious groups on the left and right are preparing for local skirmishes after the Supreme Court allowed education vouchers, which have been used mostly at church-related schools.
The liberal Interfaith Alliance has urged legislators and public school officials to "ignore" the court's ruling, and conservative groups such as American Renewal and the Christian Coalition will promote more school voucher programs.
"School systems in the United States don't have to do everything the Supreme Court says they can do," said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the alliance.
Richard Lessner, director of American Renewal, the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council, said state legislatures and local school boards should take the legalization of "school choice" to heart.
"It's interesting that the left can just pick and chose what Supreme Court rulings it likes," Mr. Lessner said. "We are a society governed by laws produced by the governed. That is how the pro-life movement has proceeded."
The Interfaith Alliance, which often calls for deference to the courts on church-state matters, urged "all people of faith and good will to ignore the Court's decision."
Jim Backlin, legislative director for the Christian Coalition, said that though the ruling is an allowance, not a mandate, citizens and school boards should not be intimidated by voucher opponents.
"The lower-income families in the cities are going to drive the debate," he said.
Mr. Gaddy said the statement to ignore the court was not a call to civil disobedience, but a "proactive way of trying to avoid excessive entanglement" with religion because the private schools at which parents use the vouchers are mostly church-related.
He said the Interfaith Alliance will "monitor how things proceed" and "watch it carefully, documenting what actually happens in terms of quality education."
The court's 5-4 ruling said that a Cleveland voucher program set up by the Ohio legislature did not establish religion by letting parents spend the vouchers at private schools, most of which are parochial schools.
"For the more liberal groups, the voucher issue has become a talisman for church-state separation," said James Guth, a political science professor at Furman University.
Liberal religious groups typically urge society to respect court rulings and say that religious conservatives are too belligerent, but now that has shifted, Mr. Guth said. "They really are violating one of their own rules," he said. "That just shows what a hot-button issue vouchers is."
Mr. Gaddy said civil disobedience is not the message of the Interfaith Alliance, but it believes religion may lose freedom by taking government money.
"We feel it is in the best interest of the constitutional principle of religious liberty for education leaders to not adopt a voucher system," he said.
On moral issues, civil disobedience has been applied toward voting rights for minorities, anti-war protests, some school decisions to have public prayers despite court rulings, and pro-life sit-ins at abortion clinics.
On the voucher issue, some school officials could be put in situations where they have to release money for vouchers or make parents aware of the voucher option, and some of them may protest by not cooperating.
"With civil disobedience, you have to be willing to accept the consequences," Mr. Lessner said. "Are the school officials who oppose this or disobey some legal process willing to go to jail for it?"


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