Americans United Applauds Federal Appellate Court’s Decision That Maryland School District Not Required To Fund Religious Instruction

Americans United for Separation of Church and State applauded today’s decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that affirmed a Maryland public school district is not required to fund a child’s religious education.

Americans United and allies had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Leiman v. Smith, urging the court to reject the argument that the Leiman family of Montgomery County was entitled to tuition reimbursement for their special-needs child under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The brief says the First Amendment does not require government to provide religious instruction to any student.

“The Montgomery County public schools are willing and able to provide an appropriate education for the Leimans’ son,” said Richard B. Katskee, Americans United’s legal director. “The family is free to seek private religious instruction for their child, but they’re not entitled to have taxpayers cover the cost.”

Akiva and Shani Leiman have conceded that their child, identified as M.L., could receive an appropriate education through a public school program. But because they want M.L. to receive Jewish-themed lessons, they argue that M.L. should be sent to a Jewish school – and that Maryland taxpayers should foot the bill. They have argued that Jewish teachings are vital to M.L. so that he can learn how to live in his Orthodox community.

Both an administrative-law judge and a federal district court rejected these arguments; today, the 4th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

AU’s brief was written by Katskee and former AU Madison Fellow Carmen Green. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU 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.