Supreme Court to Decide Freedom “of” or “from” Religion in School Funding Case

Supreme Court to Decide Freedom

( – On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that will decide if the rights of private religious schools are being violated and if religious groups are entitled to receive state taxpayer money.

In 2015, the state of Montana created a program that would provide a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $150 per year for individuals and businesses that donated to private schools. The organizations that received the donations could then give financial aid to parents to decide which private schools their kids could attend.

Most of the private schools, 90%, that registered for the program had a religious affiliation.

Not long after the program was launched, a state agency said scholarship money could not be used at religious schools due to a clause in the state Constitution that prohibits “any direct or indirect appropriation or payment … to aid any church, school … controlled in whole or in part by any church.”

Three low-income families sued to protect their choice of education for their kids with help from the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm.

In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the scholarship program violated the state Constitution. As a result, the court struck down the entire law.

The two questions the Justice will have to determine are:

  • Can a state government discriminate against religion?
  • Should citizens of religious faith be frozen from state programs intended to help everyone?

Previous Supreme Court Rulings

In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer that Missouri was wrong to exclude Trinity Lutheran Church from a state program that was created to help nonprofits add safer rubber surfaces to gravel playgrounds.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that blocking the church “from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution.”

Much like Montana, the Missouri Constitution has a provision that says “no money shall ever be taken from the treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld a case in Washington in which a state scholarship program awarded scholarships to students who attended religious schools.

Freedom “Of” or “From” Religion

Many parents choose to send their kids to Christian schools to ensure their children receive an education in alignment with their values.

A statement by Erica Smith, a lawyer representing the families, said:

“The U.S. Constitution requires the government to be neutral, not hostile, towards religion. They should be treating families that want to go to religious schools the same as families that want to go to nonreligious schools.”

She further stated, “Prohibiting all religious options in otherwise generally available student aid programs rejects that neutrality and shows inherent hostility toward religion.”

Rarely does the Supreme Court get involved in cases that the highest courts of a state have made a ruling on.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, it will be a landmark case that impacts generations of Americans.

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