Yeshiva classroom (illustrative)
Yeshiva classroom (illustrative)Flash 90

A coalition of Jewish parents and Orthodox schools launched a lawsuit on Monday against the California Department of Education arguing that the state has an obligation to give them equal access to special needs education for their children in religious schools.

California law currently states that federal and state funding can only go to special education in public and secular private schools. The legislation prevents funds from being used for private religious schools, including Jewish schools.

The Jewish parents wish “to send their children to Orthodox Jewish schools but are prevented from doing so” by the law, according to Becket, a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute, that is handling the case.

“It takes a special kind of chutzpah to deny Jewish kids with disabilities equal access to special education benefits,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “California politicians can end this unlawful discrimination the easy way or the hard way. Either they change the law that is hurting children with disabilities, or they can shamefully fight in court for the right to discriminate.”

According to Becket, the Supreme Court recently struck down a Maine law that was similar to the California law, allowing private secular schools access to public funds but denying religious schools and the same access.

The ruling “builds on a long line of cases holding that religious people cannot be excluded from government benefits programs solely because they are religious,” according to Becket.

“California’s elected officials should want to help the most vulnerable members of our society, not hurt them,” Rassbach said. “There is no reason to stand by this outmoded law instead of giving kids with disabilities equal access to benefits.”

The effort by the legal institute to protect the rights of religious parents and schools to access special education funding in California is being supported by the Orthodox Union, according to Becket.