Supreme Court: Public money can be used for religious education

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday in favor of a Montana mother who wanted to use the state’s tax credit-funded scholarship to send her children to a Christian school, giving school choice advocates, and the Trump administration, a major victory.
  • Two weeks after President Donald Trump called school choice “the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade, and probably beyond,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, that no “‘historic and substantial’ tradition supports Montana’s decision to disqualify religious schools from government aid.”
  • In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, plaintiff Kendra Espinoza and two other families in the case argued the state took a hostile, rather than neutral, stand toward religion when it invalidated the scholarship program instead of letting the funds be used at a religious school. The state’s action, according to the plaintiffs, violated the free exercise, equal protection and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.


The opinion is likely welcome news for the president, coming less than a week after the court ruled June 18 that his administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was mishandled, leaving the policy in place for now.

The court’s decision, however, also comes not only as states are facing large shortfalls because of the declining tax revenues, but also as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been insisting states share federal COVID-19 relief funds with private schools.

On trial, essentially, were states’ so-called “baby Blaine Amendments,” which date back more than a century and have been described by the Institute for Justice as “rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry.” Montana is one of 37 states that has such an amendment — or “no aid” statute — although interpretations of them vary at the state level.

Roberts was joined in the opinion by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Elena Kagan.

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