Trent England | August 31, 2014

Bigotry bites into scholarship for disabled students

Trent England

Should people of faith have fewer rights?

Last week, an Oklahoma County District Court decided the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship—a program to help pay for disabled children to access private education—cannot be used for religious schools. The decision is based on the state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment” and is a wake-up call for Oklahomans who care about civil rights.

Consider that atheist and agnostic Oklahomans have nothing to worry about under the court’s ruling. State funds will remain available to send their disabled children to private schools that eschew religious faith. Only parents of disabled children whose faith compels them choose religious education will be denied scholarship support.

This is no surprise, since Blaine Amendments were born of late-19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. The Oklahoman earlier this year described the state’s Blaine Amendment as “embarrassing,” saying it “deserves to join Jim Crow laws in the dust bin of history.”

The district court ruling will be appealed. “Prohibiting the use of Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship funds from being used to send students with disabilities to sectarian schools would require the state to discriminate against those schools,” said Attorney General Scott Pruitt. “That is highly troublesome and why we will appeal the ruling.”

There is a strong argument that when parents choose a religious school, without government interfering in that choice, the Blaine Amendment should not apply. Whatever the final outcome, yesterday’s ruling is a reminder that a vestige of bigotry remains in the Oklahoma state constitution and still threatens the civil rights of some Oklahomans.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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