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December 12, 2000

Agudath Israel Reacts to Voucher Ruling

NEW YORK -- In the wake of yesterday's federal appeals court decision declaring Cleveland's limited school voucher program unconstitutional, David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel of America's executive vice-president for government and public affairs, had the following comment:

"It is nothing short of appalling to read some of the grotesque reactions to this 2-1 ruling emanating from some of the ideological opponents of school vouchers.

"To say, for example, as the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State did, that the court's ruling is "an early [holiday] present for America's public schools" is to mock the thousands of poor families in Cleveland who have used the voucher program to escape a failing public school system that holds out little hope for helping their children break the cycle of poverty and dependency in which they feel trapped.

"To say, as the executive director of the American Jewish Congress did, that the 2-1 ruling is "a decisive rebuttal to those who believe that vouchers are compatible with religious liberty" is to ignore the strength of the dissenting judge's position, and the fact that other courts around the country that have considered the issue have upheld the constitutionality of voucher programs.

"It is also to ignore the plain language of the two-judge majority opinion itself, which makes clear that the constitutional flaw the judges discerned in this case mandates specifically to the design of the Ohio program, not to voucher programs generally. Far from being "a signal to localities considering implementing vouchers that to do so would only bring about litigation that they would lose," the decision is a signal that a properly tailored voucher plan that offered parents a full range of options would easily pass constitutional muster.

"Those who are committed to do all in their power to preserve the public school monopoly and to prevent parents from having meaningful educational options will surely have reason to be pleased with the outcome of this case - though we suspect that the Supreme Court will render that pleasure short-lived. We ask only that they temper public expression of their pleasure with a modicum of sympathy for the parents and children who are devastated by the ruling, and with a modicum of humility regarding just how conclusive and far-reaching the ruling may be."

For further information please contact Rabbi Avi Shafran at (212) 797-9000

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