Oliver v. Hofmeister

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
April 2015
Status: 
Oklahoma’s Lindsey Nichole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act provides vouchers to special-needs students for use at private schools. Virtually all of the participating private schools are religious, and these schools can and do discriminate on the basis of religion in admissions. Oklahoma’s Constitution has a No Aid Clause, which prohibits the use of government money "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, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.” A group of Oklahoma taxpayers challenged the program in state court, the trial court agreed that the program is unconstitutional, and the state appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
 
In April 2015, we filed an amicus brief, in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, supporting the challenge to the voucher program. Joined by other civil-liberties and religious-liberty groups, we argued that the voucher program violates the No Aid Clause's rigorous protections against the diversion of taxpayer dollars to religious institutions. Moreover, the history of the No Aid Clause reflects that it was designed to protect the freedom of religious minorities and ensure that government-funded programs were religiously neutral and open to all; both of these goals are undermined by a program that transfers taxpayer funds from public schools, which are open to students of all religious beliefs, to religious schools, which can and do discriminate on the basis of religion.
 
In February 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the voucher program. The Court found that the voucher program did not violate the state constitution's No-Aid Clause because parents choose whether to participate in the program, the scholarship money is given directly to the parents, and the parents choose which private school their child will attend.