Today, Judge Rebecca Nightingale ruled against the families of disabled students, preventing them from receiving state scholarships to attend schools that accommodate their special needs.
"We are disappointed with this decision," says Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "We will appeal and continue to fight for the rights of the students and their families."
In 2010 the Oklahoma State Legislature passed the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program Act, which gave certain students with disabilities the right to receive a scholarship from the State of Oklahoma to facilitate their attendance in a participating nonpublic school. This helped families like Stephanie and Russell Spry, who were awarded a scholarship for their autistic son to attend a school that could meet his special needs.
However, in 2011, two school districts sued the Sprys and other families claiming that the scholarship program violated the Oklahoma Blaine Amendment by allowing public dollars to go to religious schools.
Today the judge ruled for the school districts, agreeing that the program is unconstitutional.
"The program is neutral to both religion and non-religion. Any nonpublic school can participate in the program, and parents choose where to send their child. The state does not favor any school over another," said Baxter. "It is unfortunate that the school districts decided to spend their money suing the families of disabled students instead of supporting opportunities for the students to succeed."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. The Becket Fund 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.