Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

Today, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the state’s school voucher program, which sends taxpayer money, in the form of scholarships, to parents of students with disabilities for use at private schools, including religious schools. A lawsuit challenging the program argued the funding scheme violated a provision of the state constitution barring aid to religion.

The provision reads:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit or support of any priest, minister or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

Despite that blanket prohibition, the Court ruled the program is lawful and emphasized the that the funding choice is made by the parent and not the state. Here is an excerpt from the ruling

Because the parent receives and directs the funds to the private school, sectarian or non-sectarian, we are satisfied that the State is not actively involved in the adoption of sectarian principles or directing monetary support to a sectarian institution through this scholarship. When the scholarship payment is directed to asectarian private school it is at the sole and independent choice and direction of the parent and not the State. The scholarship funded through the Act has no bearing on state control of churches. We are convinced that the scholarships funded by the Act have no adverse impact on the ability of churches to act independently of state control and to operate separately from the state.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s House Education Committee narrowly passed a measure Monday that would institute a much broader school voucher system across the state.

Last year, the Colorado Supreme Court invalidated a voucher program in that state under a similar “no aid to religion” provision. A legal challenge is also moving forward in Nevada, where the state constitution likewise prohibits the use of public money to aid religion. A judge there has halted the program pending the outcome of the suit.