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US Supreme Court to Hear Religious Schools Case: 'States Cannot Base Laws on Hostility to Religion'

Supreme Court of the United States at Sunset

The US Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear the case involving a Montana program that gives tax credits to people who donate to private-school scholarships.   

The state's highest court had struck down the program, claiming it violated the state's constitutional ban on state aid to religious organizations.

The Montana legislature created the tax-credit program in 2015.  It allows Montanans to receive a tax credit of up to $150 for donations to approved scholarship organizations for private schools or "innovative education programs" in public schools. 

Kendra Espinoza, a parent represented in the case, praised the US Supreme Court's decision to review the case.

"For the benefit of families across the state, and the nation, we hope the US Supreme Court restores this program to families that need it to ensure their children have access to a good, safe and meaningful education," she told the Institute for Justice.

"States cannot base laws on hostility to religion," said John Bursch, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy. "Likewise, no provision of Montana's constitution can enshrine hostility to religion into state law."

"We commend the Supreme Court for taking this case. The court's recent Trinity Lutheran decision, which the Montana Supreme Court entirely ignored, clearly should apply here. As the US Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirmed in that decision, states cannot impose 'special disabilities on the basis of religious views or religious status.' The high court should not allow the dead hand of 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry, which motivated the state constitutional provision at issue here, to put a stranglehold on educational resources desperately needed by parents and their children," he said.

ADF filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the US Supreme Court on behalf of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization. It asked the court to hear the case and strike down the Montana Supreme Court's ruling.

John Schilling, president of the American Federation of Children, said the case could have national repercussions.

"We are incredibly pleased to learn that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this fall on the Montana tax credit scholarship case, which could fundamentally alter the landscape for school choice across the country," he said in a statement.  "This could be the most impactful Supreme Court case since the pivotal Zelman decision in 2002, which ruled that state-level voucher programs are constitutional."

Meanwhile, most private schools in Montana have religious affiliations, and more than 90 percent of the private schools that have signed up with scholarship organizations under the program are religious.



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