U.S. Supreme Court endorses taxpayer funds for religious schools

Image credit Michael Mims on Unsplash

"Today's ruling is perverse", she wrote in her dissent.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the application of Montana's constitutional provision discriminates against parents of children attending religious schools and violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.

In the 5-4 ruling, the court essentially backed a Montana tax-credit scholarship program that gave residents up to a $150 credit for donating to private scholarship organizations, helping students pay for their choice of private schools.

The justices faulted the Montana Supreme Court for voiding a taxpayer programme merely because it can be used to fund religious entities, saying it violated the US Constitution's protection of the free exercise of religion.

The United States Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The ruling paves the way for some of those states including Missouri, Idaho and South Dakota to lift restrictions on funding for religious schools and could affect separate bans in ME and Vermont, said Tim Keller, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, which represented the Montana mothers.

Roberts wrote, "A state need not subsidize private education". Now, families who receive education vouchers may apply those vouchers at any school they wish to attend, regardless of its religious affiliation or lack of such an affiliation.

Joining Roberts in the majority were the associate justices who generally make up the high court's conservative wing: Clarence Thomas; Samuel Alito; Neil Gorsuch; and Brett Kavanaugh. In the past, school choice advocates maintained a modest posture in the High Court, asking the justices to uphold low-dollar voucher programs in OH and Arizona. Co-counsel Erica Smith praised the decision in a press release. The agency cited the Montana constitution's no religious aid provision as justification for the rule.

In practice, most of the money went to Christian schools.


The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by three Kalispell parents whose children attend private, religious schools and had hoped to benefit from the scholarship programs. "Nor could they", Roberts wrote.

"The Supreme Court says travel website Booking.com can trademark its name, a ruling that also impacts other companies whose name is a generic word followed by ".com". She said that move did away with any discrimination based on faith.

In a dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the majority "barely acknowledges the play-in-the-joints doctrine here".

In the case, free exercise of religion was pitted against another element of the First Amendment - the separation of church and state that prohibits governmental establishment of an official religion or favoring one religion over another.

"The majority's approach and its conclusion in this case, I fear, risk the kind of entanglement and conflict that the religion clauses are meant to prevent", Breyer wrote in a dissent partly joined by Justice Elena Kagan.

It wasn't the first time so-called anti-prostitution pledges have been argued before the Supreme Court.

The ruling came in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Hat tip to SCOTUSblog, which had early coverage of the opinion.

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