Institute for Justice Launches Third Lawsuit Seeking to Tear Down State-Based Barriers to School Choice

Institute for Justice · March 11, 2003

Washington, D.C. –After its clients withdrew their children from religious schools to transfer them to public schools—a decision unrelated to its litigation—the Institute for Justice today terminated its lawsuit seeking broader school choice in Vermont. Vermont currently allows “tuitioning” in any town that does not operate a public high school, giving residents the right to send their children to any school of their choice—public or private, in-state or out-of-state, but not religious schools. The Institute’s suit sought to require the state to include religious schools as a component of that choice.

The withdrawal from the case comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Locke v. Davey decision. In that case, the High Court stated that public money could not be used to fund the religious education of individuals seeking a divinity degree. Both school choice proponents and opponents had hoped for a broad decision putting the case in the context of school choice, but instead the Court kept its ruling narrowly focused on those seeking to become religious ministers. At least 28 times in the majority’s 12-page opinion, the Court notes that Davey’s scholarship was being used to fund training for the ministry, employing limiting phrases such as “training for a lifetime of ministry,” “pastoral ministries degree,” “degree in devotional theology,” and “to pay for the religious education of future ministers.”

Dick Komer, the Institute for Justice’s lead attorney in the case said, “We don’t know what the ultimate effects of Locke v. Davey will be. We’re prepared to let this issue play out in other jurisdictions.”

Komer said, “We will continue to fight for school choice, with a long-term goal of removing all legal barriers to providing parents with a free choice of whatever type of school they prefer. We hope that some day those efforts will succeed to the extent that Vermont will be unable to continue its policy of discriminating against religion.”