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Supreme Court Might Grant Funding for Religious Education

February 10, 2020


The Supreme Court appeared to be favorable to the renewing of public funding for religious education, following debates among conservative and liberal justices. The conservative party argued that the so-called Blaine Amendment reflects the anti-Catholic sentiment of the 19th century that prompted states like Montana to block public support for religious education.

The case in question made its way to the public eye after three Montana mothers challenged a state decision that made their children ineligible for a scholarship program created in 2015 because they attended a Christian school. The program provided a tax credit of up to $150 for people and corporate entities that donate to secular and religious private schools.

The Montana Supreme Court eventually ended the program for all schools, after it determined that the program breached the state constitution, which forbids the appropriation of public funds for all religious institutions, including schools.

What Do the Parents Say?

Lead plaintiff Kendra Espinoza and two other mothers wanted their children to attend the Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Montana. They sued and asked the state to maintain the program created in 2015, defending their right to religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and arguing against the so-called Blaine Amendments. As the case made its way to the Supreme Court, conservative justices, in particular, seemed to agree to their demands.

“As tuition costs increase every year, it’s becoming more and more of a struggle to keep affording it. But that’s where the tax-credit scholarship program becomes so beneficial, not just for our little family, but for all other families out there as well. In 2015, legislation was enacted in Montana to allow incentives for private citizens to contribute to scholarship organizations towards private school tuitions. We were thrilled. This would bring an added level of assistance to many families throughout Montana. But the Montana Department of Revenue promptly stepped in and informed us that if our children attended private religious schools, as opposed to private secular schools, we will not be able to access these scholarship funds,” Kendra Espinoza explained.

Kendra Espinoza is now a single mother working three jobs in order to provide her daughters with the opportunity to attend the Stillwater Christian School. She homeschooled her children until her husband left and applied for the tax-credit scholarship program after enrolling them in the Christian school. 

What Do the Justices Say?

Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the so-called Blaine Amendments that were invoked when ending the program “are certainly rooted in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics.” His two daughters are both enrolled in Catholic schools. The chief justice also seemed to favor the decision to reinstate the scholarship program, as he asked the state’s lawyer to explain how  the court’s examination regarding religious discrimination differs from a hypothetical case about racial discrimination. Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr. remarked that no person could argue to shut down all public parks or swimming pools “because a higher percentage of African Americans come and use the pools.”

By contrast, liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned the fact that discrimination against religion is a fact in this particular case, as the final decision in Montana was to eliminate the scholarship program for all private schools. Justice Elena Kagan agreed and showed that “everyone’s now in the same boat since now no money will go to either religious or non-religious schools. So there’s no discrimination going on now, is there?”

Liberal and conservative justices seemed to hold opposing views regarding the case, with conservatives implying that Montana ended the tax-credit scholarship program only because it provided funds for religious schools.

Future Funding for Religious Schools

Severe restraints have been imposed in the U.S. when it comes to public funding being used for religious schools and institutions. The so-called Blaine Amendment clearly states that “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect.”

In the name of tolerance and equality, advocates of public aid for religious schools and institutions have already started to question previous restraints. Tensions might grow as Americans everywhere are now debating two fundamental principles: their right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state.