By Nina Totenberg
Morning Edition / NPR (1/22/20)
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a major case that could dramatically alter the line separating church and state.
At issue is a Montana state constitutional amendment that bars direct and indirect taxpayer aid to religious institutions. Conservative religious groups and advocates of school choice are challenging the “no-aid” provision.
They have long sought to invalidate state constitutional amendments that prohibit taxpayer funding from going to religious schools. Given that Montana is one of 38 states with a “no-aid” provision, the court’s eventual decision could have far-reaching consequences.
The case began in 2015 when the Montana legislature passed a bill providing a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for individuals who donate to organizations that provide scholarship money to students in private schools. An organization called Big Sky began raising money to fund these scholarships, using the tax credit as an incentive. Of the 13 schools that got scholarship money from Big Sky, 12 were religious schools. Indeed, 70 percent of all private schools in Montana are religiously affiliated.
“In the past, the court, echoing the framers of the constitution, guarded against government-funded religion. Now the court is actually considering not only allowing but forcing taxpayers to subsidize religious activities.”
Ultimately, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire tax credit program for all private schools, religious and non-religious alike. It said the tax credit conflicted with the state constitution, which bars all state aid for religious education, whether direct or indirect, like a tax subsidy.
School choice advocates are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to revive the scholarship aid program in its entirety. They are backed by the Trump administration, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who as a private citizen and as a Cabinet member has advocated for what she recently called “faith-based education.”
Baby Blaine Amendments
Kendra Espinoza, the lead plaintiff in the case, has two daughters attending the Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Mont. She is an office manager and staff accountant, who works extra jobs in order to pay for her children’s tuition. …
(Commoner Call photo by Mark L. Taylor, 2019. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link toe www.thecommonercall.org )