U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear a landmark Montana religious freedom case.
Laurel, MT –Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to take up Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that addresses whether states can ban religious parents and children from using neutral benefit programs because they choose a religious private school. Obviously, the court sees this as an important case. They are asked to review about 1,000 cases annually, and of those only about 70 are chosen.
“In 2015, Montana became the 46th state to adopt school choice. Now, after 4 years of non-stop litigation, we’re asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate school choice so that every child in Montana can find their perfect educational fit,” says Jeff Laszloffy, Montana Family Foundation’s President and CEO. “In our opinion, this is classic viewpoint discrimination and we hope the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.”
This case arises out of a law passed by the Montana Legislature that allowed tax credits for donations to scholarship granting organizations. The Montana Department of Revenue promptly adopted a rule prohibiting religious schools from participating, saying that it would violate Montana’s Constitution. Three plaintiffs, all Montana taxpayers whose children attend private religious schools, challenged the rule in district court under both the Montana and U.S. Constitutions. They won because, according to the district court, the rule was not required by Montana’s Constitution.
In December, the Montana Supreme Court overturned the decision of the district court and the will of Montana voters. “The Montana Supreme Court found a way to strike down the Tax Credit program: it interpreted the Montana Constitution beyond its written language and then used a conflict in federal law to say its interpretation satisfies the U.S. Constitution,” says Anita Y. Milanovich, Chief Legal Counsel for the Montana Family Foundation. “Now, parents must choose to either forego their fundamental right to raise their children according to their own religious beliefs or be deprived of societal benefits and opportunities other families enjoy. The United States Supreme Court needs to address this important issue and resolve the legal conflict to protect the religious freedom of students and parents.”
“If the court rules broadly in our favor, this case has the potential to overturn century old discrimination language found in nearly half of state constitutions,” Laszloffy says, “This case is a classic example of the length of time it takes to overturn bad public policy. It took several legislative sessions for us to pass the original law, and another 4 years in court to bring it to this point.”