Md. Family Has No Right To Taxpayer Funding For Child’s Religious Education, Says Americans United

Public Schools Can Fully Accommodate Special-Needs Student, Church-State Watchdog Group Says

An Orthodox Jewish family in Maryland does not have the right to a publicly funded religious education for their special-needs child, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed yesterday, Americans United and its allies told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that while all special-needs children have the right to a quality public education, none has the right to taxpayer-funded religious instruction.
 
“All children deserve a strong public education,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Maryland education officials were fully willing to accommodate this youngster, yet his parents were unsatisfied because they want the child to receive religious lessons. That is their right, but they must pay for it themselves.”

Akiva and Shani Leiman have admitted that their child, identified as M.L., could receive an appropriate education through a public school program if they sought exclusively secular instruction. But because they want M.L. to receive Jewish lessons, they argue M.L. should be sent to a Jewish school – and Maryland taxpayers must foot the bill. They have argued that Jewish teachings are vital to M.L. on the grounds that he must learn how to live in his Orthodox community. Therefore, the Leimans contend, Jewish instruction is cultural for M.L. rather than purely religious.     
 
Both an administrative-law judge and a federal district court rejected these arguments, so the Leimans appealed. Americans United says the First Amendment does not require government to provide religious instruction to any student.
 
“[T]he choice to provide secular education, whether general or special, does not give rise to a duty to provide parallel religious education,” asserts the brief.
 
The brief for Leiman v. Bowers was written by Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and Madison Fellow Carmen N. Green. (Green is admitted in Virginia only, and is supervised by Katskee.) The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jewish Social Policy Action Network, People For the American Way Foundation, Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism joined the brief.
 

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.