Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling in Espinoza v. Montana was a huge win for American families and supporters of school choice. The decision paves the way for granting students the freedom to attend religious schools using a state’s tax-credit scholarship funding.
Back in 2018, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state’s only private-school choice program was unconstitutional, because families could use tax-credit scholarship dollars to send their children to religious schools. The Supremes reversed that decision in a 5-4 ruling.
The Montana ruling, they held, unconstitutionally prevented families from using program funding to choose religious schools for their kids — a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. Excluding families from using program funding at religious schools, the majority argued, is discrimination by the government on the basis of religion.
The ruling built on precedent. In a 2002 case, the Supremes had held that voucher programs can be legally used to pay for religious schools. That’s because the funding goes to families, which can then choose to send their kids to religious or nonreligious private schools. It’s the same reason why publicly funded Pell Grants can be used at private universities with religious affiliations without violating the Establishment Clause.
Then, too, Montana’s private-school choice program is privately funded: Tax-credit scholarship funding never ends up in the tax collector’s hands — which means the money headed to religious organizations never crossed the government’s palm in the first place.
So much for the (sound) reasoning. Today’s decision means that private-school choice programs are forbidden from discriminating against religious families by excluding religious schools from participation. This has a few important implications.
First, Montana’s tax-credit scholarship program will resume operation. This also means that states like Maine and New Hampshire — which have private-school choice programs that prohibit families from using funding at religious institutions — will now have to allow participating families the choice of sending their children to religious private schools.
This decision also strikes a blow to the discriminatory “Blaine Amendments” found in 37 state constitutions. These amendments, which have often blocked families from using school-choice program funding to send their children to private schools, are rooted in the anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Catholic bigotry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Source: New York Post
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