Oklahoma Supreme Court Approves Program Giving Taxpayer-Funded Scholarships to Religious Schools

In 2010, Oklahoma passed a law called the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities act which provided vouchers to students with special needs. It meant students who qualified could attend one of several dozen private schools with the help of taxpayer funding.

The problem with that law was that the vast majority of those schools were religious. (And most of them did not actually specialize in special needs students.)

In short, the scholarship was a sneaky way to get taxpayers to pay for the religious education of students.

Scholarship

It goes on like this for a while…

The law was challenged at the district level and the judge agreed it was unconstitutional because of all the taxpayer funding going to religious schools. But Attorney General Scott Pruitt (who also fought for the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds) appealed. The ball was then in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court. Until that Court reached a decision, schools receiving the funds were stuck in legal purgatory:

“We were anticipating a ruling this summer, but nothing ever happened. We are on pins and needles. Our parents are on pins and needles. It’s very unnerving,” said Loretta Keller, executive director at Town and Country School in Tulsa, the biggest recipient of state scholarship dollars. “We were told once it has been ruled unconstitutional, the money will stop immediately. We have students who are in limbo because it could happen any day now, and many of our parents have told us their child would not be able to continue at Town and Country without a scholarship.”

Through a request under the Open Records Act, the World obtained the most recent full-year data showing scholarship payments broken down by private school and sending public schools. It shows that 61 percent of the $2.5 million paid out in 2014-15 went to 42 religious schools, while the other 39 percent was split among five non-religious schools.

What’s sad is that Town and Country was one of the few non-religious schools receiving money, but it would be shut out if the entire scholarship was found to be unconstitutional. (A new law would have to be written to give them disability scholarship funding.)

Well, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has finally ruled on the matter. And they say the scholarships are constitutional. Somehow.

Students with disabilities and their parents are celebrating after the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously ruled the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program is constitutional.

A district court had ruled the scholarship program was unconstitutional, threatening the future of students at the school; but, this week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed that decision.

Congratulations, Religious Right. You found a way to give taxpayer money to Christian schools legally.

As much as I like that these students will get the attention and help they need, using taxpayer money for religious indoctrination isn’t the way to do it. Lawmakers should have known that years ago when they passed the bill.

Or they did know it and chose this path on purpose. If that’s the case, their plan worked brilliantly.

(Thanks to Beau for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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