Appeals Court Rejects Parochial School Disability Case

A disabled religious school student does not have a constitutional right to demand publicly funded educational services in a religious environment, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Manchester, N.H., parents of a boy identified as Andrew S. filed suit, arguing that the Individuals with Disa­bilities Act is unconstitutional because it does not mandate that disabled children in religious and other private schools receive the same level of services as public school students.

The parents argued that to get the level of services their son requires, they would have to forgo sending him to a Catholic school. This, they contended, violated their freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. Upholding a lower court ruling, the judicial panel held that parents who choose private education do so knowing that they may have to give up some services.

“Persons opting to attend private schools, religious or otherwise, must accept the disadvantages as well as any benefits offered by those schools,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Levin H. Campbell for the court. “They cannot insist, as a matter of constitutional right, that the disadvantages be cured by the provision of public funding. It follows that denying the benefits here, to which appellants have no cognizable entitlement, do not burden their free exercise rights.”

The court also held in the Gary S. v. Manchester School District decision that the legal challenge fails because there is no constitutional requirement that government fund private schools.