According to Mike Farris [letters, Oct. 25], Post writer Joan Biskupic [news story, Oct. 15] mischaracterized the law in stating that the Supreme Court has shown little inclination to provide guidance to lower courts about whether vouchers for religious schools are constitutional. Mr. Farris insists that the issue is settled--primarily by an 11-year-old decision that he successfully argued--and that vouchers are constitutional.

But he is wrong. The Supreme Court decisions upon which Mr. Farris and other voucher advocates rely have stopped far short of approving anything akin to a voucher.

In one of the decisions, Mr. Farris cited, Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., the court viewed as crucial the fact that no funds traceable to the government ever find their way into sectarian school coffers. In the court's most recent funding case (Agostini v. Felton, 1997), the approved service (sign language interpreter) was administered and controlled by public officials, who ensured that the service only supplemented the religious schools' program and could not be diverted for religious uses. As the Maine Supreme Court correctly observed, the Supreme Court never has concluded that a direct, unrestricted financial subsidy to a religious school could escape the strictures of the Establishment Clause.

In recent years, three federal courts and five state courts have declared that vouchers are unconstitutional, whereas only two state courts have reached the opposite conclusion. As the First Circuit Court of Appeals recently stated, approving direct payments of tuition by the state to sectarian schools represents a quantum leap that we are unwilling to take.

So far, the Supreme Court has indicated its unwillingness to take that same leap.


General Counsel, Americans United

For Separation of Church and State