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United States Supreme Court Poised to Hear Religious School Case

July 30th, 2019

The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case concerning a Montana law that allowed for tax credits to be used to send children to a religious school.
The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case concerning a Montana law that allowed for tax credits to be used to send children to a religious school.

The United States Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case concerning a 2015 Montana law which allows tax credits to be used for religious school instruction. Montana’s highest court has already struck down the program on the basis that it violates the state’s constitutional ban on providing state aid to religious organizations. The outcome of this case is poised to have a substantial impact on the conflict between free religion and the establishment clause in the United States.

The Origins of the Program

The Montana legislature created its tax credit program in 2015. The purpose of the program is to allow individuals in Montana to receive a tax credit of up to $150 for donations to approved scholarship organizations for both private schools and innovative education programs. 

The issue being heard by the United States Supreme Court concerns whether the Montana state legislature will be able to provide tax credits for families who send children to a religious school.

The three petitioners in the court are three mothers of children who attend a religious school in Montana’s Flathead County and who argue that the state’s refusal to issue tax credits constitutes religious discrimination. The Institute for Justice represents the mothers and argues that they should be able to use the scholarship program to let their children attend religious school.

Response to the Case

A parent of a student involved in the case has praised the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case. A spokesperson for the Alliance Defending Freedom group has commented that states are prohibited from passing laws that discriminate against parties’ religious beliefs.

Another spokesperson for American Federation of Children has stated that the case could result in national repercussions and might even be the most influential Supreme Court case since the Zelman decision in 2002, which held that state-level voucher programs are constitutional. 

The outcome of the decision will likely have great effect in Montana, where most private schools are religiously affiliated.

The Potential Outcome of the Case

The Montana Supreme Court based its decision on an old state constitutional amendment which prohibits state tax dollars from going to schools controlled by a church or religious organization. These amendments currently exist in 37 states and were initially created to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools.

As a result, this case would have profound effects because it could potentially extend the degree of free exercise in the country and increase the number of situations where the use of public tax dollars for private religious schools is permitted. 

The United States Supreme Court could conversely end voucher programs designed to allocate public funds to private religious schools. 

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

While the law concerning the required separation between church and state has existed since the creation of the country, each year there are a number of cases that test the exact boundaries of these laws. Each month the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on describing these matters to keep our readers updated on the issues that matter.

(image courtesy of Jack Sharp)

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