School Vouchers

Society for Humanistic Judaism Speaks Out Against School Vouchers

As Humanistic Jews, we believe that education of children is instrumental to the dignity and self-actualization of every human being.

As Humanistic Jews, we believe that a free and public education is a cornerstone to democracy.

As Humanistic Jews, we are concerned with the funding crisis and other problems plaguing public schools and are sympathetic to solutions that genuinely increase choice for all parents without diverting resources from public schools and without government funding of religion.

As Humanistic Jews, we believe that vouchers as currently constructed divert resources, attention and commitment from struggling public schools, potentially deepening the inequality between rich and poor students, while directly strengthening and benefiting religious education. A system that diverts limited resources from a system that serves all to a system that serves a few undermines core tenets of Humanistic Judaism.

As Humanistic Jews, we believe that publicly-funded vouchers or scholarships, or tax credits – while purporting to be about choice – in reality result in the direct government funding of religious education in violation of Establishment Clause principles as embodied by the First Amendment:

  1. The Supreme Court in the Zelman case acknowledged that 96% of the students participating in the voucher program were enrolled in religiously affiliated schools [Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 663, 681 (2002)], and a U.S. Department of Education 2009-2010 survey demonstrated that 80 percent of private school students attended a school with a religious orientation or purpose [].
  2. Because vouchers do not come close to bridging the gap between the frequently higher costs of a secular private education compared to a parochial education, the result is the grossly disproportionate benefit to sectarian schools.
  3. Parents who already feel that they have little choice of educational opportunities for their child may feel compelled to accept religious indoctrination contrary to their beliefs as a condition for what they perceive as a better overall education.
  4. Vouchers are not being used solely for the secular components of education such as secular texts, computers, or busing but for the teaching of religious dogma to young and impressionable children.
  5. Vouchers increase the prospects of government regulation of religion. This entanglement was evident in the voucher system at issue in the Supreme Court case Zelman where the private schools had to agree to certain conditions to receive the money. Such intrusive monitoring is neither in the best interests of religious institutions nor the government.

As Humanistic Jews, we recognize that, under the free exercise of religion, every parent should be able to select a religious education for their child. And while we recognize that religious institutions discriminate based on religious beliefs, such discrimination should not in any way be facilitated by direct government funding. Religious education should remain privately funded.

As Humanistic Jews, we are inspired by Justice Stevens’ dissent in Zelman: “Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundation of our democracy” [Zelman, 536 U.S. at 686 (Stevens, J, dissenting)].

Accordingly, we, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, oppose all vouchers, scholarships, and tax credits that divert resources from public schools to the benefit of private schools, especially schools that are religious in nature. Religious education must always remain privately funded so as to protect both religion and our democracy.

— May 2012