Colorado Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments in Douglas County school voucher program case Monday (19 Nov 2012)
The Colorado Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Monday afternoon (19 November 2012) on the Douglas County school voucher program that was stopped (via permanent injunction) by Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez in a controversial ruling (Larue v. Douglas County) in August 2011.
In that ruling, Judge Martinez decreed that the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program violated multiple sections of the Colorado Constitution (Article IX, Section 7 Aid to Private Schools, Churches, Sectarian Purpose, Forbidden, Article IX, Section 8 Religious Test and Race Discrimination Forbidden Sectarian Tenets, and Article II, Section 4, Religious Freedom) as well as the state school financing act.
Martinez appears to have disregarded governing constitutional precedent established in the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, which established the constitutionality of school vouchers even for schools with a religious component if the choice is up to the parent:
This Court’s jurisprudence makes clear that a government aid program is not readily subject to challenge under the Establishment Clause if it is neutral with respect to religion and provides assistance directly to a broad class of citizens who, in turn, direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice. See, e.g., Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388. Under such a program, government aid reaches religious institutions only by way of the deliberate choices of numerous individual recipients. The incidental advancement of a religious mission, or the perceived endorsement of a religious message, is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits.
A contemporaneous Colorado Springs Gazette editorial (“Backward voucher ruling favors oppression“) was a scathing indictment of Denver District judge Michael Martinez’ ruling to stop the Douglas County school choice program via permanent injunction, calling it “a decision to segregate and oppress,” also noting that voucher programs do NOT violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause:
In Colorado, education money attaches to children. With each child who enrolls, a public school gets more than $6,000 for the year.
Vouchers issue the money to parents. At that point, the money belongs to the parent and child. They are free to spend it at almost any accredited school, religious or otherwise.
The key point – that educational choice belongs to the parent, not to the government (especially, not to the courts) – bears repeating:
Once state money is converted to a voucher and given to a child, it’s no longer the government’s. It belongs to the child, who is subject to the will of a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians have the right to choose whether their children are schooled in secular or religious settings.
The Douglas County case also touches upon important constitutional issues such the separation of powers between branches and levels of government, establishment of religion, and collection and allocation of tax dollars, but ultimately comes down to a very basic and fundamental issue:
who decides how to educate Colorado’s children?
Clear The Bench Colorado believes that the decision should be in the hands of parents – NOT in the hands of the courts.
Cases such as this highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering (let alone deciding) issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government. Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government. This is not it.
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.