Sunday, April 30, 2017

Z is for Zelman

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris
[June 27, 2002, decided 5-4]

The Cleveland public schools were performing badly, so the State of Ohio began a school voucher plan where vouchers were given to parents, who then chose to enroll their children in participating public and private schools.  Both religious and non-religious private schools participated, but most of the participating private schools were affiliated with religious groups.  Certain Ohio taxpayers sued the State for violation of the Establishment Clause.

Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that the "Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion. It provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice."

The purpose of the program in this case was secular, assisting poor children in a failing public school to complete their education.

Under the Private Choice Test developed by the Supreme Court, a voucher program must meet all of the following criteria to be constitutional:

1.  the program must have a valid secular purpose – here, providing educational assistance to poor children in a failing public school system.

2.  aid must go to parents and not to the schools – vouchers were given to parents.

3.  a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered – all students enrolled in the existing failing school system.

4.  the program must be neutral with respect to religion – parents were not required to enroll their children in a religious-based school.

5.  there must be adequate nonreligious options – participating schools included public schools in adjoining districts, secular private schools, and religious-based schools.

This decision interpreted federal law.  Most state constitutions have so-called Blaine Amendments which specifically forbid state funding of religious education. Ohio's Blaine Amendment was not considered by the Supreme Court in Zelman.  Other states have struck down similar voucher systems as violating their state Blaine Amendment. 

Did you guess right?
We're done with the A to Z Challenge.  Did you find these Supreme Court cases interesting?  Leave a comment!


  1. Dena, I've enjoyed the insight into US legal cases. And well done for making it through the A-Z =)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I had fun but I'm very glad it's over =)

  2. Congratulations on getting to Z.

    What a pertinent post considering the DeVos plans for schools in US.

    I love oatmeal cookies with raisins. When I was little I could have eaten a whole batch.

    1. Yes, education is in the forefront again. Sort of like clothing styles. Keep all of your out-of-style clothes, because they'll come back into fashion in a few years.

      I love oatmeal cookies with raisins! Yum!

  3. Congratulations on the A to Z. I enjoyed reading your posts.

  4. And yet here we have Betsy Devos pushing the voucher system almost to the exclusion of public schools. I find it all very confusing sometimes.

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Happy Trails To You!

  5. I was doubly wrong. Didn't recognize Zelman as it turned out and didn't know the Z case. Like hitting into a double-play, I got two wrong with just one letter.

    Dena, congratulations on surviving the A to Z. Whew! Exhausted yet?!

    Just in case you're wondering, I thought your material was totally worth your exhaustion. You had some fascinating cases. Even the ones I was familiar with taught me something new or reminded me about something I'd forgotten. So thanks for participating all month. Now go hibernate for May!

    1. A double play lol. Yes I am exhausted and would love to hibernate for May. Congrats to you too for surviving [pun intended] the challenge! Glad you enjoyed my material =)