**** PRESS RELEASE *****
(For immediate release)
(Laurel, MT) —Today, in a sweeping, 5-2 decision, the Montana Supreme Court rejected the will of Montana voters by striking down, in all its applications, a Montana statute establishing a tax credit to taxpayers who donate to a scholarship fund that helps children attend private schools.
The statute, adopted in 2015, allows 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.
On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court instead reviewed the constitutionality of the entire tax credit statute to conclude it is unconstitutional in all applications. Adopting a sweeping interpretation of the Montana Constitution, the Court announced that it prohibits all religious government aid and so concluded that the entire statute was unconstitutional. It never ruled on the merit of the Department’s rule.
“This outcome is a blow to Montana families, who will now be denied the educational opportunities the tax credit afforded,” said Jeff Laszloffy, President of the Montana Family Foundation, which advocated for the tax program. “And it is a blow to justice, as an entire statutory provision has been found unconstitutional without any notice—not even to our Montana Attorney General, who has never even had a chance to review or defend the constitutionality of the statute as required in Montana law.”
“But,” he continues, “we will not give up. We believe in Montana’s children and will continue to support efforts that help provide them with the best education opportunities possible.”