Today, in a long-awaited ruling on state Blaine Amendments, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of three Montana mothers who wished to enroll their children in religious schools with the assistance of a scholarship.
The ruling was a blow to opponents of school choice but created a day of celebration for the organizations and individuals who have worked for decades for a day like today because they understand the importance of a high-quality education for every child.
The Independence Institute filed an amicus brief to offer the Court evidence of how the drafters and ratifiers of both the Colorado and Montana constitutions used the term “sectarian” to discriminate against disfavored religious beliefs. Justice Alito’s concurring opinion cited the Independence Institute brief, and also cited the scholarship of Robert G. Natelson, Director of the Independence Institute’s Constitutional Studies Center.
There are 37 states that have Blaine language (no-aid provisions) in their state constitutions, including Colorado. Montana’s “no aid” provision was applied incorrectly against the Montana scholarship program and violated the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause. The majority opinion, by Chief Justice John Roberts, wrote: “this Court has repeatedly upheld government programs that spend taxpayer funds on equal aid to religious observers and organizations, particularly when the link between government and religion is attenuated by private choices.”
In 2015, lawmakers in Montana passed a scholarship tax credit program that allowed for a state tax credit for private donations made to K-12 scholarship granting organizations. But regulators at the state’s department of revenue invoked the Montana constitution’s Blaine Amendment to bar scholarship recipients from using the scholarships at religious schools.
Kendra Espinoza, and two other mothers, wishing to send their children to religious private schools, legally challenged the Montana Department of Revenue rule. The Montana Supreme Court decided to end the program because it allowed parents to use their children’s scholarships at religious schools. Our friends at the Institute for Justice represented the parents and successfully took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pamela Benigno, a school choice advocate for more than three decades, and director of the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center was elated that the U.S. Supreme Court has finally settled the debate, in favor of parental choice.
The Independence Institute, and other Colorado school choice supporters, have a long history of efforts to establish a school choice program to help families choose the best school for their children. Two programs have been legally challenged. There is hope that a younger generation will not be influenced by the usual opponents of school choice but will take a more practical view of educational options rather than be sold out to political organizations that want to control where children are educated.