| September 11, 2014

OCPA fellow says legal precedent favors Oklahoma’s special-needs scholarships

“If you don’t look at words in the proper context,” writes law professor Andrew Spiropoulos, “even skilled attorneys can misread seemingly clear language.”

That’s what happened, Spiropoulos says, when an Oklahoma County district judge recently found that allowing participants in the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities to use their public funds to attend private sectarian schools violates the state constitution.

Spiropoulos, who also serves as the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at OCPA, is quick to acknowledge that the judge’s ruling is not irrational. But he says the ruling is mistaken because, under the Henry scholarship program, the state does not appropriate any money, directly or indirectly, for the benefit or support of sectarian institutions. Rather, it simply funds students. Moreover, the Oklahoma Supreme Court

has long held that the state may compensate religious institutions for services they supply to the public at the state’s behest. As long as the purpose of the state’s spending is to benefit the public and the state receives a valuable service in exchange for its money, the program is constitutional. The Henry scholarship precisely fits this model. The state’s purpose is to provide disabled children an education; some of the vendors providing the service just happen to be religious institutions. … The case now moves to the Supreme Court. The Court need only follow its own precedent to lift this cloud over the lives of hundreds of disabled children.

We encourage you to read the entire column here.

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