Contact: Sheridan Betts
OCPA: OK Dept. of Education must stop discriminating against Christians
OKLAHOMA CITY (November 11, 2020)— Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, issued the following statement today regarding apparently illegal action taken by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to restrict student opportunity and bar Christian schools from participating in the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program.
“By unilaterally rewriting state law, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is restricting educational opportunity for some of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children, including students with special needs and foster children, while also engaging in anti-Christian discrimination that is likely to prompt successful lawsuits. Rather than double-down on illegal and unconstitutional discrimination, OSDE and the State Board of Education should immediately repeal their illegal and discriminatory rule that harms children, and approve the applications of Altus Christian Academy and Christian Heritage Academy, as they have approved the applications of numerous other private Christian schools over the last decade. That will not only avoid embarrassment for the state, but also ensure Oklahoma students and schools are treated with the respect they deserve.”
Background: The Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program provides state scholarships for certain students—those with special needs like autism, or foster children—to attend private schools. Since 2010, participating private schools have been required to comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of a section of federal law that bars discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin.”
However, under the leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the OSDE has since drafted new program regulations that added “religion” and “sexual orientation” to that list, effectively rewriting state law without legislative approval. The unauthorized revisions to the program have since been used as a pretext to bar private Christian schools from serving LNH students – specifically Altus Christian Academy and Christian Heritage Academy. At a recent meeting, Oklahoma State Board of Education member Kurt Bollenbach declared that one school’s requirement for staff to be “mature Christian teachers” was “discriminating against other religions or nonreligions.” Bollenbach and Brad Clark, who serves as Hofmeister’s top attorney, also noted the two schools’ policies did not address sexual orientation, an indication the schools adhere to traditional Christian teaching, and urged that the schools not be allowed to participate in the LNH program as a result.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the LNH program in 2016, saying, “When the parents and not the governmentare the ones determining which private school offers the best learning environment for their child, the circuit between government and religion is broken.” (Emphasis in original.)
The U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld school-choice programs that allow students to attend private religious schools with policies similar to those at Altus Christian Academy and Christian Heritage Academy.
The State Board of Education is scheduled to meet tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 12, and the group’s agenda includes Altus Christian Academy and Christian Heritage Academy.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is a free-market think tank that works to advance principles and policies that support free enterprise, limited government, and individual initiative.