Advocates for school choice and religious liberty won at the Supreme Court yesterday.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of three Montana mothers, reviving a state tax-credit program designed to generate private scholarships for students in the state to attend the private school of their choice.
After the Montana Legislature passed the school voucher program in 2015, the State Department of Revenue refused to implement it. The Montana Supreme Court later struck down the scholarship program, claiming it would violate the state's Blaine Amendment.
Attorney Diana Verm of Becket says Blaine Amendments have a bigoted history.
"They were implemented as part of an anti-Catholic wave in the 1800s, and that history means they are unconstitutional under the Free Exercise Clause," she explains.
Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the court to strike down the Blaine Amendments, saying the harmful measures have since been used to target Catholics and all people of faith.
"This was a Montana case, but it means that nowhere can government exclude groups from government programs just because they're religious," Verm continues. "It's a win for religious liberty across the country."
In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a case commonly referred to as "Trinity Lutheran" that religious groups cannot be excluded from government programs just because they are religious.
Tuesday's 5-4 ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue reaffirms that holding.
Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO, and chief counsel to First Liberty Institute, says the Supreme Court has held that the U.S. Constitution prevents the government from treating religious organizations and schools unequally.
"The Justices made it clear that states cannot legally discriminate against religious organizations when they perform the same work secular institutions do," he tells OneNewsNow. "This is a victory for religious liberty."
First Liberty Institute also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Espinozas and partnering with Joshua Davey, who was denied a scholarship by the state of Washington because of its Blaine Amendment. Davey intended to use that scholarship to study for religious ministry at a religious college. His case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004, where Washington's decision in Locke v. Davey was upheld.
"The justices in the majority tore down a monument to intolerance and discrimination," says Project 21 co-chairman Council Nedd II, a former charter school teacher in Washington, D.C. "Since the Reconstruction era, Blaine Amendments have been used to keep children from getting the best possible education by denying their parents a true choice of schools. This victory ... will do more to advance black lives than any march or protest we've seen in the past few weeks," he adds.
John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, agrees that the amendment's nullification will have far-reaching effects.
"The court's decision is very broad," he notes. "It doesn't apply just to Montana. But I would say that in any of the 32 states that have these anti-aid clauses, all of those will be unenforceable against school programs going forward."
Bursch reiterates that the decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, is welcome news for Christians and conservatives.
"I think it's a very strong signal that going forward this is going to be a court that is looking out for religious liberty and protecting it to the full extent that the Constitution requires," he says.