What Does the ACLU Have Against Children with Disabilities?

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire

ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel

March 31, 2009

It used to be that people who found it easy to steal from others smugly described their no-sweat larceny as "like taking candy from a baby."  How then to describe a legal action that takes the best educational opportunities away from disabled children?

Ask the American Civil Liberties Union.  Ask People for the American Way.  Ask the teachers' unions.  Because, in Arizona, all three have ganged up to ensure a less-than-ideal learning environment for children with disabilities.

Last week, that state's Supreme Court found in favor of those groups in their lawsuit against Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, striking down a state program that allowed special needs children to use vouchers at private schools.  ADF attorneys joined attorneys from the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe last year in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Father's Heart Christian School in defense of the voucher program.

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the voucher program, but the ACLU and its allies appealed their case to the state Supreme Court.  You can see this latest opinion here.

"The ACLU, People for the American Way, and the teachers' unions have denied disabled children the educational opportunities they deserve. They are the ones hurt by this," said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "Special needs students who attend Christian schools shouldn't be penalized for their beliefs."

"Any tuition that goes to a religious school is through the choice of the parent and for the benefit of the child. It is not ‘state support' of that school," explained Orrick attorney Raymond Mullady, who co-wrote the friend-of-the-court brief. "We truly disagree with the high court's decision and are saddened by its consequences for Arizona's special needs children."

Perhaps no one will feel those consequences more sharply than John and Dina Phipps and Brendan and Susan Fay, founders of Father's Heart Christian School for the disabled, who recently removed their developmentally and physically challenged children from the Arizona public school system because of the inadequate education they felt the children were receiving there. (Two of the children suffer from autism and the other from learning and physical challenges.)

Father's Heart provided the customized instruction the children needed, and their behavior and participation improved remarkably – as did their academic performance, which rose by several grade levels just one year after leaving the government school system. The children receive vouchers through the Arizona Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities program to attend Father's Heart, but this most recent decision from the Arizona Supreme Court effectively kills the program.

Ironically, in a separate lawsuit earlier this month, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against the ACLU, upholding a state program for corporate taxpayers that allows tuition scholarships to be used by students at public or private schools, including religious schools.

Clearly, the issue of vouchers cuts to the heart of some fundamental issues dividing the ACLU from those who embrace religious liberty.  But for the disabled children now unable to afford the education they need, the issue is not just philosophical.  Their lives will feel the impact for years to come because of the determination of those on the Left to erase any connection between the government and those who live by their Christian faith.

Please be in prayer for these children, and for ADF and its allied attorneys, as we seek out legal recourse for their families.