Celebrating School Choice – and Families’ Religious Freedom


January 27-31 is School Choice Week across the U.S., celebrating the freedom American parents enjoy to be able to decide for themselves whether to enroll their children in public or private school, or educate them at home. It’s a freedom unknown in many parts of the world – and one made stronger by a case won by Alliance Defending Freedom clients at the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.

On April 4, 2011, the high court ruled 5-4 to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against an Arizona program that promotes school choice. The program, like others across the country, allows state residents to claim a tax credit for donations to private organizations that provide scholarships to private schools.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO), one of more than 50 non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations organized to distribute private donations (through scholarships) to more than 27,000 students attending hundreds of private schools throughout the state. Our attorneys argued that the Arizona program involves individual, private choices and funding – not government action or money – and pointed out that the program saves the state money while relieving overcrowded public schools.

The Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with our attorneys that the ACLU’s clients –Arizona taxpayers who simply didn’t like the program – had no legal standing to sue over someone else’s private donations. This Alliance Defending Freedom argument led to the national precedent that is opening the door for millions of children to receive a quality education.

“Parents should be able to choose what’s best for their own children,” Senior Counsel David Cortman pointed out at the time. “This ruling empowers parents to decide what schools their children attend and where their money goes. The ACLU failed in its attempt to eliminate school choice for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide and also failed to demonstrate that it had any constitutional basis for its clients to file suit in the first place.”

Throughout Europe, parents who want to remove their children from government schools find themselves under legal assault by those determined to use classrooms as a forum for indoctrinating students in the state’s political agenda. In many cases, parents have been jailed and had their children removed from their legal custody as punishment for home schooling or placing their children in private Christian academies. Many of our staff and allied attorneys are working even now to help these families.

While things have not yet come to such a crisis point in the U.S., countless challenges to religious liberty, parental freedom, and school choice remain. Recently, our attorneys filed suit on behalf of a hearing-impaired preschooler in Montana who was denied tuition assistance, even though she qualified for benefits under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).  State officials said the little girl was ineligible because she attended a faith-based preschool.

Our lawsuit changed their minds. Now, not only will the girl receive her rightful tuition money, but so will all other disabled children who qualify for IDEA benefits in Montana.

Cases like these are crucial to preserving the longstanding freedom of American parents to choose the school they consider best suited to the needs of their children. Please be in prayer for our attorneys as they stand in courtrooms coast to coast to defend your constitutionally-protected right to place your children and grandchildren in the school of your choice.

Author: Alan Sears