April 2016 Church & State - April 2016

Okla. High Court Upholds Voucher Program

  AU admin

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in February that a voucher program benefiting students with disabilities does not violate the state constitution.

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program allows the parents of students with disabilities to use public funds to place their children in private schools, including religious ones. In 2013, a coalition of parents, educators, a state senator and a retired judge filed suit to end the program.

“Because the parent receives and directs the funds to the private school, sectarian or non-sectarian, we are satisfied that the State is not actively involved in the adoption of sectarian principles or directing monetary support to a sectarian institution through this scholarship,” the court found.

Americans United joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Oklahoma, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Interfaith Alliance to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The groups argued the scholarships violated a “no-aid” clause in Oklahoma’s constitution banning public support for sectarian institutions; most voucher recipients used the vouchers to attend private, religious schools. They also asserted that the no-aid clause should be upheld because it was originally drafted to end the state’s practice of using federal funds to pressure Native American parents to place their children in Christian schools as a means to force their assimilation.

The case is Oliver v. Hofmeister.

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