Judiciary

SCOTUS Ruling a Small Win for Religious Liberty, School Choice

The Court puts another nail in the coffin of the religiously bigoted Blaine Amendments.

Thomas Gallatin · Jul. 1, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Montana’s ban on religious schools receiving tax credits allocated to private schools violated the Constitution. In Tuesday’s 5-4 decision, the increasingly political Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the Court’s conservatives to form the majority opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

While the Montana law was the focus of the case, the larger implication of the High Court’s ruling is that it cements SCOTUS’s repudiation of the remaining vestiges of the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, the failed 1875 constitutional amendment that Justice Brett Kavanaugh called “grotesque religious bigotry” but that took hold in 38 of the 50 states.

The Montana Supreme Court had sought to solve the issue by scrapping the scholarship program entirely rather than address the anti-religious bias of the state’s Blaine law. “The Montana Supreme Court invalidated the program pursuant to a state law provision that expressly discriminates on the basis of religious status,” Roberts noted. “The Court applied that provision to hold that religious schools were barred from participating in the program. Then, seeing no other ‘mechanism’ to make absolutely sure that religious schools received no aid, the court chose to invalidate the entire program.” Roberts also observed that the Montana Supreme Court’s solution was dubious as it was “to the detriment of religious and non-religious schools alike.”

Furthermore, Roberts noted, “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.”

President Donald Trump, who supported the plaintiffs in the case, praised the decision. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed Trump’s sentiments, stating that the president “believes that school choice is a civil-rights issue, and that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing school.”

Predictably, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten blasted the ruling as dangerous, asserting that it would “be responsible for unleashing a virtual earthquake in this country that threatens both religious liberty and public education.” Interesting how a ruling that effectively puts greater freedom and power into parents’ hands to choose what’s best for their own children’s educational needs is declared by a teachers’ union to be a “threat.”

While this ruling is a win for religious liberty and school choice, it amounts to a pittance when compared to the huge loss Americans suffered to their religious liberty in the Court’s disastrous Bostock v. Clayton County. Another 5-4 split also shows just how precariously our rights still hang in the balance.

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