As of last month, thirty-eight states had laws that stood in the way of families using publicly funded scholarship programs at religious schools. The same funding was approved for other private schools, so long as they had no religious affiliation. Thankfully, that discrimination was ruled illegal by our country’s highest court and Liberty Justice Center was right in the thick of the action.
The ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue is a big win for families across America who want a better education for their kids. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision in a Montana state scholarship program that “forbids parents from participating in a publicly funded scholarship program simply because they send their children to religious schools (page 1 of Alito’s concurrence).”
Associate Justice Alito’s explanation for why he agreed with the Court’s decision specifically mentioned Liberty Justice Center’s argument. As he notes from our brief to the Court, the original intent of Montana’s prohibition on funding private religious schools was to discriminate against immigrants, particularly Catholic immigrants (Check us out on page 2 of Justice Alito’s concurrence).
The language in the Montana State Constitution was an example of a “Blaine Amendment,” which is named after House Speaker James Blaine, who introduced the idea to the U.S. Congress in 1875. When his effort failed at the federal level nearly 150 years ago, many states decided to simply put the prohibition into their state constitutions, keeping publicly funded scholarships from being used for religious schools for the past several generations.
In the “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) brief that Liberty Justice Center filed in partnership with the American Federation for Children (AFC) last September, we argued that the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and school choice both serve to protect families of minority religious faiths from community pressure to give up their beliefs and conform. Read the full amicus brief here.
As Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of Liberty Justice Center stated, “School choice is transformative for students, families and communities. The Court’s decision means more families will be able to make the best educational choice for their children.”