Battle for Disabled Children’s Scholarships Begins before OK Supreme Court Filing Demands Protection for Religious Organizations
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, DC – A group of Oklahoma parents with disabled children, represented by Becket Law, have filed their critical brief before the Oklahoma Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of a scholarship program aimed to help disabled children succeed.
In Jenks v. Spry, the parents were sued by the Jenks and Union public schools for accepting state scholarships to send their children to private schools. The school districts oppose the scholarships based on Oklahoma’s “Blaine Amendment,” a provision with anti-religious roots that restricts state funds to “sectarian institutions.” The trial court ruled the scholarships unconstitutional.
“Blaine Amendments cannot be used to prevent religious students or schools from participating in State programs that are available to everyone else,” said Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel with Becket Law. “The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that these amendments have ‘a shameful pedigree,’ which the High Court does ‘not hesitate to disavow.’”
The scholarships were enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2010 to give students with disabilities a second chance. The scholarships were funded with money saved when the scholarship recipient left the public schools. Families could use the funds toward tuition at any private school—secular or religious—as long as the school met the State’s academic standards. The scholarships have helped families like Stephanie and Russell Spry, who were awarded a scholarship for their autistic son who was being “warehoused” in a public school that was not able to meet his special needs.
The brief notes that of the five families sued by the school districts, three used the scholarships to send their children to a secular private school. Only two had their children in religiously-affiliated schools. “This shows that that the scholarships are religion neutral,” said Baxter. “Oklahoma is simply helping kids with disabilities get the education they need by giving parents choices.” The brief notes that excluding schools from the list of acceptable schools just because they include some religious instruction is what would be impermissible.
Becket filed the brief with co-counsel Andrew Lester of Lester, Loving, & Davies in Edmond, Oklahoma. Several other parties, including Oklahoma State Representative Jason Nelson, the original sponsor of the bill, have indicated that they will file amicus briefs in support of the parents. The School Districts have until June 29 to respond to the parents’ arguments.
Becket Law is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. Becket has a 17-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government at the U.S. Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Melinda Skea at email@example.com or call 202.349.7224.