The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that Montana’s exclusion of religious schools, including Jewish ones, from a state scholarship program violates the U.S. Constitution.
The 5-4 decision is a win for Jewish and other religious schools.
The case started in 2015 when Montana’s legislature passed a bill giving up to $150 in tax credits for individuals who donate to scholarship funds for private-school students. The state’s tax authorities deemed religious schools ineligible to receive such donations.
The Montana Supreme Court, citing a state constitutional prohibition on state assistance to religious schools, struck down the entire program.
Delivering the court’s opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
Yehoshua Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice, a nonpartisan group advocating for school choice, told JNS that the decision is “a major victory for religious liberty and for families seeking to provide their children with an education in accordance with their religious tradition and values. This decision makes clear that no state may discriminate against families or schools solely on the basis of their religious character. The bigoted legacy of James Blaine is dead.”
A Republican U.S. representative from Maine who served from 1863 to 1876, and was House Speaker from 1869 to 1875 followed by a stint in the U.S. Senate from 1876 to 1881, Blaine inspired amendments known as “Blaine” laws to deny taxpayer funds to religious schools, especially Catholic ones.
The Orthodox Union, along with some other Jewish organizations, celebrated the ruling.
“The essential promise of the First Amendment’s religion clauses is to guarantee religious freedom in the United States by requiring government neutrality toward religion,” said OU executive director for public policy Nathan Diament in a statement.
By Jackson Richman/JNS.org