US Supreme Court Allows Public Money for Religious Schools in Major Ruling

The Supreme Court of the United States. Credit Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court of the United States. Credit Wikimedia Commons

The court backed a Montana program that gave tax incentives for people to donate to a scholarship fund that provided money to Christian schools for student tuition expenses. The state's tax authorities deemed religious schools ineligible to receive such donations.

While the Montana law was the focus of the case, the larger implication of the High Court's ruling is that it cements SCOTUS's repudiation of the remaining vestiges of the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, the failed 1875 constitutional amendment that Justice Brett Kavanaugh called "grotesque religious bigotry" but that took hold in 38 of the 50 states.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts explains that the Montana statute "discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution".

The court ruled in that case that churches and other religious entities can not be flatly denied public money even in states whose constitutions explicitly ban such funding.

In an effort to secure the best education possible for their children, three mothers launched a court case five years ago that may now dramatically expand education options for many more families across the country.

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"The weight that this monumental decision carries is enormous, as it's an extraordinary victory for student achievement, parental control, equality in educational opportunities, and First Amendment rights", said Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform, a school choice advocacy group.

"Laws that condition public benefits, like need-based academic scholarships, on religious status demonstrate state-sanctioned hostility to religion, pressure people and institutions to censor their religious views, and stigmatize disfavored religions", the White House said in a statement.

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The Orthodox Union, along with some other Jewish organizations, celebrated the ruling, while others, including the Religious Action Center of Religious Judaism (RAC), slammed it.

Thirty-eight states have constitutional provisions like Montana's barring public aid to religious entities. "The Court recognized the bigoted history of the Blaines, and that history makes them unconstitutional to the extent that they are used to discriminate against religion".

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The question before the justices was whether the so-called Free Exercise Clause barred Montana, a state in the western United States, from denying public benefits such as scholarships to students at religious schools.

The ERLC signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Christian Legal Society that urged the Supreme Court to reverse the Montana high court's decision.

The decision overturns a Montana Supreme Court ruling that terminated the tax credit because it violated the state constitution's ban on public aid to religious schools.

"Government funding to religious schools requires taxpayers to support religious institutions and beliefs that may violate their own, something the First Amendment was meant to avoid", continued the RAC. Often, governments lack effective ways to control what lies in a persons heart or mind. "Religious education must always be the responsibility of the family and faith community, not the government".

Before issuing the rule, which carries the force of law, DeVos had previously intervened to order that millions of dollars earmarked by Congress for low-income students be redirected to wealthy private and religious schools instead, including almost $500,000 to a school whose website is largely devoted to proving it is not a cult.

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That same policy warns parents that by enrolling their children in the school "they agree that they will not publically [sic] act in opposition to Catholic teaching".

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