In January 1996, a coalition
of Ohio parents and teachers filed a
lawsuit to block the program, arguing that it jeopardized
the separation of church and state. An Ohio judge upheld
the program, ruling that it fell "within the narrow channel
through which state funds can permissibly flow to sectarian
institutions." The program officially
began in September 1996, with some 1,700 children enrolled
in 49 private and religious schools.
Voucher opponents promptly
appealed the initial ruling, and in May 1997, an Ohio appeals
court struck down the program, ruling that it violated
constitutional provisions barring government aid to religion,
as well as a separate state uniformity provision. State
officials in turn appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which
the program to continue while it reviewed the
In May 1999, the Ohio Supreme
Court ruled that
the program did not violate constitutional prohibitions
against government establishment of religion, asserting that it
created only an "indirect" link, but that it was still invalid
because of an irregularity in the way it had been enacted. The
Ohio legislature reauthorized
the program that summer as part of valid legislation.
Voucher opponents, including teachers unions and civil
liberties group, then brought the case to federal court. Amid
legal skirmishing, the U.S.
Supreme Court stepped in to allow the program to continue
while the court challenges played out.
In December 1999, a U.S.
district judge ruled against the program, saying that it
was "skewed toward religion." One year later, a panel of the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld
the ruling, adding that the program is "not neutral in that
it discourages the participation by schools not funded by
religious institutions...." A dissenting judge on the panel,
however, wrote that the ruling was a "an exercise in raw
judicial power having no basis in the First