Government ‘hostility’ to faith before Supremes

‘Scholarship funds can be used for secular schools but not for Protestant, Jewish, Catholic or other religious schools’

(Pixabay)

The issue of government “hostility” to faith was before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday as justices heard arguments over whether Montana can exclude church schools from a scholarship program for low-income families.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in comments during oral arguments, put the issue in focus.

“Suppose the state said we’re going to allow the scholarship funds to be used for secular schools or Protestant schools but not for Jewish schools or Catholic schools. Unconstitutional?” Kavanaugh asked.

Adam Unikowsky, a lawyer for the state, admitted it would be.

“So what’s different when you say the scholarship funds can be used for secular schools but not for Protestant, Jewish, Catholic or other religious schools because of the religious status?” Kavanaugh wondered.

The Institute for Justice is representing the Espinoza family, who wanted to use the state program to help their children attend a Christian school.

Montana lawmakers in 2015 provided a modest tax credit, up to $150, for those who donated to private scholarship organizations. However, the Montana Department of Revenue soon after barred the use of the scholarships for religious schools.

The rule was based on the “Blaine Amendment” in the Montana Constitution, dating back to the 1800s, which excludes religious options. Several states still have such provisions, but they are now considered to be a pointed attack on Catholics who were moving into the U.S. at the time.

“Although the U.S. Supreme Court held that including religious options in educational choice programs is perfectly permissible under the federal Constitution, the lower courts have disagreed for decades about whether states may nevertheless exclude religious options in these programs,” said Institute for Justice lawyer Erica Smith earlier.

“We hope the court will clarify that just as the government cannot force families participating in these programs to choose a religious school, the government also cannot ban these families from choosing a religious school. The First Amendment requires government neutrality, not hostility, toward religion.”

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, could impact thousands of low- and moderate-income families who are able to access similar scholarships nationwide.

IJ said that nearly 30 states and the District of Columbia currently give parents a full range of educational choice – including religious options – through various school choice programs.

Michael Bindas, also a lawyer with IJ, said Montana’s Blaine Amendment dates back to 1889 and “was designed to discriminate against Catholic schools and students at a time of widespread hostility toward Catholics, both in Montana and throughout the country.”

“By applying it to bar religious options from modern school choice programs, the Montana Supreme Court has transformed this relic of nineteenth-century, anti-Catholic bigotry into an engine of animus against anyone who might choose to attend a religious school,” he explained.

The lead plaintiff, Kendra Espinoza, enrolled her daughters in a Christian school when the public school proved not to be a healthy environment.

She counted on the scholarships to help pay the costs.

Fox News reported the justices on Wednesday appeared to be “closely split.”

“If the justices were to reverse Montana’s decision, it could open the door to more scholarship and voucher programs across the U.S., following the high court’s recent trend of expanding religious liberty,” the report said.

 

Original here

Author: Narrow Path Ministries

Non-denominational, Independent, Bible believing Church

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