A century-old constitutional provision will no longer block religious schools in Montana from receiving fair treatment.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the state’s Blaine Amendment, which barred public aid from going to educational institutions “controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.” In a 5-4 decision, the justices held that the rule—named after U.S. Speaker of the House James Blaine’s failed federal amendment in 1875—unfairly excluded religious schools and children who hope to attend them.
Three mothers of school-age children in Montana wanted to take advantage of a state program that gave residents a $150 tax credit for contributions to a scholarship fund that allowed students to attend a private school of their choice. But the state’s revenue department decided the Montana Constitution barred the families from using the money for tuition at Stillwater Christian School and other religious institutions. The mothers, Kendra Espinoza, Jeri Anderson, and Jaime Schaefer, sued.
In the majority opinion for Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Blaine Amendment violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by targeting religious schools. Roberts is a firm believer in stare decisis—the court’s practice of adhering to its own precedents—and cited the 2017 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer. In that case, the justices held that the state of Missouri could not deny a church school’s application for a program that paid to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires simply because it was religious.
The case sparked several different opinions as the right-wing of the bench debated whythe rule was unfair.
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