At-risk youth, taxpayers gouged in effort to exclude religious contractor

Alliance Defending Freedom submits friend-of-the-court brief in support of Jefferson County School Board
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Attorney sound bites:  Rory Gray  |  Jeremy Tedesco

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Alliance Defending Freedom submitted a friend-of-the-court brief Monday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in support of the Jefferson County School Board’s decision to contract with a non-religious program for suspended or expelled students operated by a Christian academy. The district made the move to save more than $171,000 per year so that it could reinvest the taxpayer money into its essential services to keep them afloat.

Although all parties to the lawsuit agree that the board’s decision did not have a religious purpose, a federal district court nonetheless determined that the board’s decision was unconstitutional.

“Students should not be penalized because some people fail to understand what the First Amendment actually requires,” said Litigation Staff Counsel Rory Gray. “The Jefferson County School Board is committed to helping children in need and providing the best educational services. The school district is not guilty of a constitutional violation just because the organization that provided a much-needed, non-religious program for at-risk youth happened to be run by Christians. The Constitution does not permit the government to discriminate against or target people of faith.”

In November 2003, two teachers filed a lawsuit against the Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners over the cooperation with Kingswood Academy, a private school that offered a non-religious, alternative day program for public school students that is separate from its private, religious program for other students. In July, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee found in favor of the teachers, who claimed that the arrangement violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The Alliance Defending Freedom brief filed in Kucera v. Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners explains that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that the First Amendment requires government neutrality toward religion and prohibits any hostility toward it. The brief notes that, “Kingswood’s secular day program complies with the basic government requirements designed to ensure that public funds flowing to religious organizations fully comport with the First Amendment.”

The brief also explains that, “Whether schools are concerned with finding a graduation venue or providing alternative education services to students, utilizing religious providers of secular services--who rarely seek extensive profit--often makes sound financial sense.… The practical reality in an age of burgeoning expenses and shrinking budgets is that, in some instances, schools face a decision between using the secular services of religious charities or foregoing those services altogether.”

“The school board made a wise and constitutional decision both for the taxpayers and the youth who needed Kingswood’s program,” added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope the court will reverse the lower court’s decision and allow the board to continue working with groups like the academy for the benefit of the entire community.”
  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-ko)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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