Earlier today, the Supreme Court of the United States released its decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 591 U.S. _____ (2020). In this case, the State of Montana created an education tax credit program. That program provides tax credits to persons who donate funds to organizations that give scholarships to students at nonpublic schools. The Constitution of the State of Montana bans the use of government funds to aid religious schools. Based on that “no-aid” provision, the State of Montana barred families from using scholarships offered in connection with the education tax credit program at religious schools. In a 5-4 opinion penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas, the Court ruled that the application of the “no-aid” provision in this case violated the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The majority’s reasoning was clear: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” (slip op. at 20).
Jason J. McGuire, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF), made the following remarks: “The Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department is an important victory for parental rights and religious liberty. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids an ‘establishment of religion,’ but it also forbids government from singling out religious persons or entities for unequal treatment. If a state creates an education tax credit program to incentivize donations to scholarship providers, parents whose children attend Christian schools or other religious schools must be free to receive scholarship funds on the same terms as everyone else. Big government is not permitted to practice religious bigotry.”