The Ongoing Fight for Schoolchildren’s Religious Freedom

One of the quieter – though equally intense – battles for religious freedom in America is being fought almost daily on behalf of young school children.  This week, two cases from two different parts of the country spotlight the obstacles being placed before people of faith, like you, who want nothing more than to select a school that best meets the needs of their children and grandchildren.

Last month, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) and Columbus Public Schools on behalf of a youngster who is effectively being punished for attending a faith-based preschool.

Though she’s beset by speech and hearing difficulties, the four-year-old we represent has thrived in the learning environment of private, faith-based ABC-123 University in Columbus. She has also benefited from a federal program created by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) that provides benefits to disabled children like herself – including tuition assistance at private schools.

Trouble is, the state of Montana recently adopted a policy prohibiting students from receiving that tuition aid if they attend a faith-based school. So the state-run Stillwater/Sweet Grass Special Services Cooperative – which initially agreed to pay for her schooling three days a week – has now revoked that financial assistance and will not provide it unless the family agrees to transfer her to a nonreligious preschool.

“Parents should be able to choose the school that best suits the educational needs of their children,” says Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “When the government provides funds to help disabled children at private schools, it cannot discriminate against religious ones.”

“The state cannot favor certain views over others and deprive disabled children of government benefits simply on that basis,” says Litigation Counsel Rory Gray. “The First Amendment forbids this type of hostility toward religion.” (Allied attorney Matthew Monforton, one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel in the case.)

Happily, that’s something they understand very clearly over at the Indiana Supreme Court, which last week decided that a state program allowing school choice for parents and children does not violate the state constitution.

“Parents should be able to choose what’s best for their own children, and that’s exactly what the Choice Scholarship Program allows for,” says Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “The ultimate winners in the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision are Indiana families who want to provide the best education for their children, whether it is public or private.”

That’s a victory we would like to give every family in America – including yours. Please rejoice with me in the Indiana high court’s decision, and join me in praying that Montana’s judges, and others throughout America, will learn from their wise precedent.

Author: Alan Sears