The Supreme Court has ruled that state governments offering scholarships to children in private schools cannot disallow religious schools from participating in the program.
The case, Espinoza vs. the Montana Department of Revenue, involved a scholarship program the state set up in 2015 to fund private education options for qualifying families. Several low-income mothers who qualified for funding were refused for the sole reason that they intended to send their children to Christian schools. These women took legal action and in 2018, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the entire scholarship program violated the state’s Constitution.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling stated that Montana’s Supreme Court got it wrong. Denying funds to religious private schools while offering the same funds to secular ones constitutes discrimination. This, according to the majority court, hurts not only educational institutions but also parents and children who want to exercise their First Amendment rights.
As Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out, the state is not required to set up a program to provide scholarship money for parents to send children to private schools. However, states that do so cannot ban certain private schools from taking part.
Justice Samuel Alito supported the decision, noting that Christian parents who pay state taxes to help fund public schools but don’t agree with the material taught should be able to benefit from any private educational funding that a state decides to offer. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has praised the ruling as a victory for those who believe in fairness and freedom.
Not surprisingly, liberals are in tears over the ruling. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia complained the decision could lead to legal action against other states that, like Montana, try to deny religious parents the same rights extended to secular parents. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten likewise had nothing positive to say about the ruling. In a statement that some would find odd, she said the case would threaten religious freedom and claimed it was a “radical departure” from the Constitution and American values.
The separation of church and state was never intended to shut religious life out of all aspects of public life. However, liberals have been trying to make this a reality for many years by claiming that religious organizations must be discriminated against at all times. Thankfully, the Espinoza vs. the Montana Board of Revenue ruling makes it clear that religious schools have the same rights as secular ones.