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Supreme Court Delivers Another Victory For Religious Schools

The Supreme Court delivered a powerful 5-4 ruling that will narrow the separation of church and state.

The nation's highest court ruled in favor of Montana tax credits that helped pay for students to attend religious schools, which will allow for more public funding of faith-based institutions.


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The decision will help ensure that more state taxpayer funds are available for children to attend religious schools in the form of "contentious voucher programs."

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is a prominent supporter of such “school choice,” released a statement applauding the ruling.

“This decision represents a turning point in the sad and static history of American education, and it will spark a new beginning of an education that focuses first on students and their needs,” DeVos said.

Reuters reported:

The court sided with three mothers of Christian school students who appealed after Montana’s top court invalidated the tax credit for violating the state constitution’s ban on public aid to churches and religious entities.

The justices faulted the Montana Supreme Court for voiding a taxpayer program merely because it can be used to fund religious entities, saying such action violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections for the free exercise of religion.

In the case, free exercise of religion was pitted against another element of the First Amendment - the separation of church and state that prohibits governmental establishment of an official religion or favoring one religion over another.

Thirty-eight states have constitutional provisions like Montana’s. The ruling paves the way for some of those states including Missouri, Idaho, and South Dakota to lift restrictions on funding for religious schools and could affect separate bans in Maine and Vermont, said Tim Keller, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, which represented the Montana mothers.

[...]

The Montana tax credit program, created in 2015, provided up to $150 as an incentive for donations to groups that fund scholarships for tuition to private schools including religious schools. In practice, most of the money went to Christian schools. The one such scholarship organization currently operating provides $500 payments to schools, primarily to help lower-income students attend.

“Today’s victory means that their state legislatures are now free to enact educational choice programs that permit families to choose both religious and nonreligious educational options,” Keller said.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion for the majority, spoke about the importance of giving tax incentives for people to donate to a scholarship fund that provided money to Christian schools for student tuition expenses.

“A state need not subsidize private education,” Roberts wrote. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

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