The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday at states may not deny tuition grants to religious schools if they would award those same grants to secular private schools.
Espinoza v. Montana concerned Kendra Espinoza, a Montana mother who used a tax-credit-funded state scholarship to send her daughters to Stillwater Christian School. The Montana Supreme Court had struck down that tax-credit system on the basis of the Blaine Amendment to the Montana Constitution, which bans the use of taxpayer funds at “sectarian” schools.
“Disqualifying otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefit solely because of their religious character imposes ‘a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny,’” Roberts wrote, citing the court’s 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran vs. Comer. “Montana’s no-aid provision bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools. The provision also bars parents who wish to send their children to a religious school from those same benefits, again solely because of the religious character of the school.”
“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that affirmed one of America’s first freedoms, established in the First Amendment – the right of religious freedom,” said Family Research Council (FRC) research fellow for legal & policy studies Katherine Beck Johnson. “America was founded, in part, to apply the principle that a government may not tell anyone what to believe or how to worship. For many Americans, our religion informs every aspect of our lives, from where and how we worship, to how we interact with civil society, to how to educate our children.”
Becket Fund senior counsel Diana Verm added, “Our Constitution requires equal treatment for religious people and institutions. Relying on century-old state laws designed to target Catholics to exclude all people of faith was legally, constitutionally, and morally wrong. The Court was right to kick the Blaine Amendments to the curb.”