ON-Lion Letter
Across Washington State, children with special needs are offered special-education services to help them achieve educational success.  And, just as the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires, these services are available to children in both public and private schools.  But Washington excludes one group of children in need -- those whose parents choose religious schools.

Washington's discriminatory policy forces an impossible choice for parents like Shari and Derrick DeBoom.  Their son Michael suffers from attention-deficit, anxiety, and motor-skills problems that hinder his ability to learn.  Michael is eligible for special-education services under IDEA, but Washington forbids them at the school his parents have chosen for him, Lynden Christian School in Lynden, Wash., because it is a religious school. 

Instead, the state insists he travel to a "nonsectarian" location, such as a public school, for needed services.  But educational assistance like a specially equipped laptop for note-taking is useless outside the classroom where he needs to take notes.

So the DeBooms must either take their son out of the school of their choice or forgo needed assistance.

That’s why the DeBooms and two other families have joined with the Institute for Justice's (IJ's) Washington chapter to file a federal lawsuit challenging Washington's law.  The lawsuit, DeBoom v. Bergeson, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, argues that Washington’s discriminatory policy violates the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s right to free exercise of religion and the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the law.

To justify its ban on special-education services in religious schools, Washington relies on the so-called Blaine Amendment in its state Constitution.  The unfortunate relics of 19th-century anti-religious bigotry, Blaine Amendments are the favored legal weapon of those who oppose school-choice programs like vouchers and tax credits that extend educational opportunity by freeing families to choose from a wide array of educational options, including public, private and religious schools.

With this case, IJ aims to make clear that Blaine Amendments do not justify religious discrimination under the U.S. Constitution -- and to sweep away these provisions as obstacles to parental choice in education.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports IJ.
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