Supreme Court opens door for states to provide public funding to religious schools

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Montana and its state constitutional amendment that bars direct and indirect taxpayer aid to religious institutions.

The 5-4 decision, with conservatives in the majority, now makes it easier for religious schools to obtain public funds.

School choice advocates and conservative groups had challenged the state’s “no-aid” provision. According to NPR, Montana is one of 38 states with a “no-aid” provision, meaning the decision could have a wide-reaching impact.

In the center of the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case is a Montana program that gave $150 tax credits to residents who made donations to groups that provided scholarships to any form of private schools. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program amounts to indirect aid to schools controlled by churches.

The Republican-led Legislature passed the law in 2015 as an alternative to a school voucher program designed to give students who want to attend private schools the means to do so. Most private schools in Montana have religious affiliations, and more than 90% of the private schools that have signed up with scholarship organizations under the program are religious.

The state court ruling invalidated the entire program, for religious and secular schools alike. In urging the Supreme Court to reject the appeal, Montana said it can’t be compelled to offer a scholarship program for private education. The state told the justices that the Montana court decision did not single out students at religious schools because the state court ruling struck down the entire program.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion that said the state ruling violates the religious freedom of parents who want the scholarships to help pay for their children’s private education.

Parents whose children attend religious schools sued to preserve the program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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