School choice an essential safeguard for religious minorities – Brief filed asserting First Amendment protection before U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 18, 2019) – Today the nationally recognized First Amendment lawyers at the Liberty Justice Center (LJC) partnered with the nation’s foremost advocacy organization for school choice — the American Federation for Children (AFC) — to file a joint amicus brief supporting three Montana families in their appeal for equal treatment in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling barring students using state-supported scholarships from enrolling in religious schools.

The case focuses on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, a part of the First Amendment that requires that government not treat religious people and institutions unfairly. The brief argues that the Establishment Clause and school choice both serve to protect families of minority religious faiths from community pressure to give up their beliefs and conform.

“The Founders gave us the Establishment Clause to stop government from forcing a majority religion onto everyone else,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “The State of Montana is flipping the First Amendment on its head, using it not to protect faith-filled families but instead as a license to discriminate against religion. That’s exactly the wrong approach on the law and history.”

For many families from minority religions, school choice is essential. For some, it spares their children from the ugliness of the bullying and harassment they experience at school for wearing different clothes, having unusual hair styles, or holding unfamiliar beliefs. For other families, school choice opens a safe harbor that reinforces their values and beliefs rather than undermining them. The brief tells the stories of schools and parents from Jewish, Muslim, and Pentecostal traditions who experienced the transformative power of school choice. But for all these families, school choice only works when courts enforce their First Amendment right not to experience discrimination against faith at the hands of the government.

“We believe that school choice is transformative for students, families, and communities,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “And we know that the First Amendment is there as a protection for the citizenry against the government, not as a permit for government to discriminate against people of faith. We’re standing with these students and families because of our shared commitment to America’s proud tradition of religious and educational diversity.”

Read the amicus brief here: https://libertyjusticecenter.org/cases/amicus-brief-espinoza-v-montana-department-of-revenue. The Supreme Court agreed to take the Espinoza case on June 28, 2019. Oral argument before the Court is expected early in 2020.