Home > Special Voucher Report > School Vouchers: A Threat to the Rights of Women and Gays
School Vouchers: A Threat to the Rights of Women and Gays
Subscribe Online & Save Current issue pdf just $4.95. Subscribe


Special Voucher Report -- Main Page

Free-Market Education

Seed Money for Conservatives

Distorting the Civil Rights Legacy

Vouchers: Special Ed Students Need Not Apply

The Conservative Connection

Privatizers' Trojan Horse

Tuition Tax Credits: Vouchers in Disguise

Voucher Decision Opens Pandora's Box

Vouchers: Turning Back the Clock

Vouchers Schools Cash In
(PDF version)

Payment "Surcharge" Gives $28 Million Extra to Voucher Schools

Supreme Court Debates Vouchers

The Voucher Threat

High Court to Decide if Cleveland Voucher Program Violates the Separation of Church and State

Church / State Separation Vital to Democracy

Vouchers and the False Promise of Academic Achievement

School Vouchers: A Threat to the Rights of Women and Gays

False Choices: Vouchers, Public Schools, and Our Children's Future
(PDF version)

Who's Bankrolling Vouchers?

Vouchers, Accoutability, and Money

With God On Their Side...

Teaching Religious Intolerance

Vouchers:Church / State Complexities

A Visit to a Religious Elementary School

Five Years and Counting: A Closer Look at the Cleveland Voucher Program

Report Looks at Public and Private Schools

Vouchers and Public Accountability

The Hollow Promise of School Vouchers

The Market is Not the Answer

Lessons of Chile's Voucher Reform

The GI Bill Doesn't Vouch for Vouchers

Selling Out Our Schools: Vouchers, Markets, and the Future of Public Education

Notable Quotes on Vouchers

Links to other important sites on vouchers.

By Barbara Miner

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon take up school vouchers - the most important education controversy in half a century and arguably the Court's most important case this year.

At issue is whether voucher programs that provide public dollars to private religious schools violate this country's constitutional separation of church and state. But there is an important corollary issue that has received scant attention. And that is, will a green light for vouchers foster discrimination against gays and lesbians and undermine women's rights?

There are currently three voucher programs under which public tax dollars pay for tuition at private schools, including religious schools - one in Milwaukee, with about 10,000 students; one in Cleveland, with about 4,300 students; and a small pilot program in Florida.

The justices hear oral arguments Feb. 20 on the Cleveland program, in which 99.4% of the students attend religious schools. As the schools make clear, their religious orientation and content imbues all aspects of school life.

Next time you hear someone claim that vouchers are about improving low-performing urban schools, beware. Fundamentally, vouchers are about taxdollars being used to fund religious education.

For those concerned about protecting hard-won gains of the movements for the rights of women and gay people, here are two important questions.

Do you want your tax dollars to pay for religious education that teaches intolerance toward gay people and undermines the rights of women?

If vouchers are approved for religious schools, the door will open to public funding of religious texts that unequivocally condemn homosexuality and basic protections for women such as the right to abortion. Many fundamentalist texts also teach that divorce is immoral and that it is the wife's role to be subservient to the husband.

Consider this rather typical statement from a high school current events textbook published by Bob Jones University Press: "These [gay] people have no more claim to special rights than child molesters or rapists." The publisher's civics books also links homosexuality to abortion and say neither deserve any legal protections: "The tendency to twist evil in order to make it seem good by giving it an acceptable name is nothing new. God warned in Isaiah 5:20, 'Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.' Today when homosexuals call their sin a 'sexual preference' that deserves constitutional protection, or abortionists call the destroying of unborn life a freedom of choice, they are simply calling evil good."

Do you want your public tax dollars to promote discrimination against gay people and women?

Wisconsin was one of the first states to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In Milwaukee, home to the country's largest and oldest voucher program, voucher schools do not have to abide by a state law that prohibits public schools from discriminating not only on the basis of sexual orientation, but on the basis of gender, marital and pregnancy status.

If the Supreme Court puts its stamp of approval on school vouchers, it will be difficult if not impossible to prevent religious schools from promoting intolerance or supporting discrimination in controversial areas such as sexual orientation or abortion rights. Why? The Constitution not only prevents government subsidy of religion but, under what is known as the "entanglement clause" of the First Amendment, quite rightly prevents government from telling religious institutions how to operate.

Clearly, there is a ongoing battle in this country between those who are fighting to eliminate discrimination on grounds of gender and sexual orientation, and those who seek to roll back the clock on the gains of the women's and gay rights movements.

School vouchers are not neutral in this struggle. They are a tool of right-wing fundamentalists who want to use public tax dollars to pay for religious education that fosters stereotypes and discrimination.

Barbara Miner is managing editor of Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org), a Milwaukee-based education reform journal. She has been covering the issue of vouchers for more than a decade.

February 2002