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Case

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

Last Updated: 5/29/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • The right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children
  • The state’s ability to offer school choice programs free from fear of attack by those who oppose parents’ rights and school choice
  • Whether parents of children in failing schools have the right to use state funded vouchers to send their child to an alternate private school of their choice, including a religious school

Summary

The Cincinnati Ohio public school system was plagued with poorly performing schools, predominately in the inner cities. In order to provide parents with the opportunity to send their child to a better school, the city developed a voucher system whereby parents were permitted to use the vouchers to enroll their child at another public school or in a private school of the parents choosing. The majority of the private schools that participated in the program were faith-based schools. The system was challenged as a violation of the Establishment Clause because religious schools were accepting government funds.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the voucher system did not constitute government endorsement of religion, because the parents were the ones who determined where the funds were to be spent. Therefore, if the government funds were provided to sectarian schools, it was due to the independent private choice of parents and was not at the government's discretion.

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom provided funding to the legal team defending the city program and supported the amici effort at the Supreme Court.

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