The Supreme Court just ruled in favor of school choice using state funds, deeming that a state cannot ban parents from using public money to attend a religious school:
POLITICO – The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with three Montana families who asked the court to declare that excluding religious schools from student aid programs is unconstitutional. The school choice case could have major implications for the use of public money to pay for religious schools.
Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue examined whether the Montana Supreme Court violated the U.S. Constitution when it struck down a tax-credit scholarship program that allowed students to use the scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in the 5-4 decision.
Here’s more from Fox News:
In the 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, 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 state’s revenue department made a rule banning those tax-credit scholarships from going to religious schools before the state’s supreme court later struck down the entire program.
“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion.
Under the program, a family receiving a scholarship originally could use it at any “qualified education provider,” which the court’s opinion noted means “any private school that meets certain accreditation, testing, and safety requirements.” The Montana Department of Revenue, citing the state constitution, then changed the definition of “qualified education provider” to exclude those “owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination.” This was over the objection of the state attorney general.
Parents of children attending a religious private school sued, and a lower court ruled in their favor, holding that the tax credits did not violate the state constitution because they were not appropriations made to religious institutions. The state supreme court overruled that decision and ordered the entire program to be scrapped.
Roberts noted that the Montana scholarship program in no way violated the U.S. Constitution, noting that the Supreme Court has “repeatedly held that the Establishment Clause is not offended when religious observers and organizations benefit from neutral government programs.” The chief justice pointed out that neither side in the case disputed this.
Tuesday’s ruling is a victory for school choice proponents and some conservative religious groups who had challenged the provision in court. Montana’s program was similar to many across the U.S., and other states have proposed tax-credit scholarship programs but not passed them due to confusion about their legality.
Well I guess we should all be shocked that Roberts came down on the right side on this one. It was another 5-4 decision where he could have swung it the other way.
Sotomayor wrote in her dissent that today’s ruling “is perverse”. She claims that the “Free Exercise Clause…never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice it’s beliefs.” But that’s just flat out wrong. The First Amendment clearly maintains that the state cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion and can’t make any laws establishing a state religion. It doesn’t say anything about the state being prohibited from encouraging religious freedom. Liberals always try and twist the first amendment this way, because they hate Christianity and religious freedom.