Supreme Court Rules Montana May Not Block Religious Schools from Scholarship Program

Policy


Steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., January 2020 (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Montana may not bar religious schools from participating in the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, a major win for school choice advocates and parents who wish to use their scholarship funds to send their children to religious schools.

The court ruled 5-to-4 in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that Montana violated the Constitution by prohibiting religious schools from participating in the tax-credit program.

The case arose when three families sued Montana’s Department of Revenue after they were blocked from using scholarship funds for their children’s tuition at Stillwater Christian School.

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The Montana Supreme Court previously decided that the solution would be to scrap the entire scholarship program, a move that an attorney for the families argued was only made because the program included religious schools.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority, which included the court’s conservative justices, and expressed his agreement with the family’s attorney. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of Montana Supreme Court, which Roberts said was “to the detriment of religious and non-religious schools alike.”

“The Montana Supreme Court invalidated the program pursuant to a state law provision that expressly discriminates on the basis of religious status,” Roberts wrote. “The Court applied that provision to hold that religious schools were barred from participating in the program. Then, seeing no other “mechanism” to make absolutely sure that religious schools received no aid, the court chose to invalidate the entire program.”

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