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Americans United, Allies File Lawsuit Against Florida School Vouchers.

Americans United and a broad array of educational and public policy groups have launched a legal challenge to Florida's new religious school voucher program.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) signed the voucher measure into law June 21. Americans United and its allies filed suit in state court the next day.

The plan, called the "Opportunity Scholarship Program," allows students attending public schools deemed "failing" by the state to transfer to religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense, using vouchers worth $4,000. The Florida program is the first statewide voucher plan in the United States.

Critics say that most of the money will end up in the coffers of sectarian schools. For example, in Escambia County, which is expected to be the first jurisdiction to take part in the voucher program, 20 of the 25 private schools are sectarian. Together these 20 schools enroll 93 percent of the county's K-12 private school population.

The legal challenge, Holmes v. Bush, filed in state court in Tallahassee, charges that the voucher program violates the U.S. and Florida constitutions.

"Taxpayers should never be forced to pay for religious instruction," said Sidney Goetz, president of the Tampa Bay chapter of Americans United, at a Tallahassee press conference. "This program clearly violates the separation of church and state, and I am confident that the courts will strike it down."

In addition to the U.S. Constitution's church-state provisions, the Florida Constitution contains strong language prohibiting public funding of religion. Article I, Sec. 3 of the Florida Constitution states, "No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 1999
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