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Big Montana Case at Supreme Court Is All About Religious Freedom for Parents and Students

01-22-2020
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Supreme Court of the United States at Sunset

US SUPREME COURT– Montana was giving tax breaks to those who donated to scholarships helping Montana students attend private schools. But when it realized most of those scholarships were going to children at religious schools, Montana stopped that from happening. Parents went to court saying that was blatant discrimination. It's a case that ended up before the nation's highest court this week.
 
Both sides in this case – Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue – say they have the US Constitution on their side. Those who agree with Montana's contention that it can't offer any kind of government benefit that profits religion say that's clearly a matter of separation of church and state.
 
Outside the Supreme Court, Sam Gerard of the American Humanist Association said, "Because of the Establishment Clause, we don't believe that you as a taxpayer should be compelled to fund anybody else's religious practices."
 
But those who are on the side of parents with kids in religious schools in Montana say that the state government is clearly discriminating against religion when it offers a benefit to any private schools except religious ones.
 
Eric Baxter's Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief on the side of the parents suing Montana. He said he was encouraged by what the justices were saying during the hearing.
 
"Five of the justices seemed to very clearly see the discrimination that's occurring when you take funding away from students because of their religious status," Baxter told CBN News.
 
Richard Komer of the Institute for Justice argued the case for the parents. He said, "Here the class discriminated against are religious people – anyone who wants to send their kids to a religious school."
 
Lead plaintiff Kendra Espinoza says she could not afford the religious school where she sends her daughters without some financial assistance, such as those Montana scholarships. But she really wants her children to get a Christian education.
 
"At home, we're a Christian family, and I want those values taught at school," Espinoza said.  "I think our morals as a society come from the Bible and I want that to be mirrored in what my children are learning at school."

As expected, atheist and secular groups showed up at the Court to protest any taxpayer dollars going to any sort of religious institution.
 
Debbie Allen of the Secular Coalition for America claims some religious schools teach clear discrimination.

"So they teach biblical law, for example, and they will discriminate against homosexuals in terms of hiring and in terms of people attending their schools," Allen told CBN News. "So we think this is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money."

But Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, legal advisor for The Catholic Association who filed an amicus brief in the case, says religious families are facing the discrimination here. She states, "Justice Kavanaugh highlighted how families are ensnared by centuries-old laws designed to target religious and ethnic groups...in 'grotesque anti-Catholic bigotry.' We look to the Supreme Court to end the legal sanctioning of religious discrimination, and, in doing so, uphold our nation's longstanding commitment to religious pluralism and allow parents to decide where best to educate their children."

A recent case – Trinity Lutheran v Comer – may be a deciding factor here. In that case, the justices ruled overwhelmingly that Missouri could not offer government grants to private schools to renovate playgrounds to make them safer if it refused to do so for religious schools. Some see remarkable similarities to that case and this one.

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