California’s “Special Kind of Chutzpah”
A new lawsuit in California challenges a state policy that bars religious parents and schools from using special education funding to serve children with disabilities. Jewish parents and schools filed Loffman v. California Department of Education, claiming the California policy violates their 1st and 14th Amendment rights by prohibiting federal and state special education funding for disabled children at religious private schools while allowing it for secular private schools.
This funding originates with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law ensuring that all children with disabilities in America can receive a free appropriate public education that meets their needs. However, the California legislature allows only secular private schools to participate in this benefits program and has categorically excluded religious schools from participation.
Eric Rassbach, Vice President and Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund, which represents the plaintiffs, said: “It takes a special kind of chutzpah to deny Jewish kids with disabilities equal access to special education benefits.” In a Twitter thread, Rassbach pointed out that a majority of Californians would like to see funding for students with disabilities opened up to non-secular schools.
The suit cites Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a landmark case that struck down a similar restriction. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that restrictions in government programs for no other reason than the fact that they are religious are “odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.”
In Carson v. Makin, the Court struck down a Maine law that, like the California law, would allow private secular schools and families to access public funding but exclude religious schools and families. Carson builds on a long line of cases holding that religious people cannot be excluded from government benefits programs solely on the basis of their religion.
PT1st supported the plaintiffs in Carson v. Makin, in which the Court ruled 6-3 to uphold the rights of religious families. We wrote: “With a solid win for religious liberty in Carson v. Makin, we can expect future cases will explore the freedom of publicly funded religious charter schools to include religious instruction.” Should Loffman make it before the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems likely that the Court will strike down the California restriction.
We supports the plaintiffs and the Becket fund in their efforts to ensure all students with disabilities in California can receive a quality education in line with their academic needs and religious heritage. The California legislature, by restricting resources, forces parents with a disabled child to violate their religious conscience, leaving them with inadequate options for their child’s education. We look forward to further developments in this case.