Jan 22, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State urges the U.S. Supreme Court to protect religious freedom and public education by upholding the Montana Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to strike down a private school voucher program that used tax credits to divert public funds to private religious schools.

In the Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue case being argued today, the court will consider the fate of religious freedom protections not just in the Montana Constitution, but also in the constitutions of three-quarters of U.S. states. These constitutional provisions ensure taxpayers are not forced to fund religious education or religious discrimination.

“Never before has the Supreme Court ruled that states must fund private religious education. It should not do so now,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Forcing taxpayers to fund religious education or private religious schools that discriminate against students, families and employees would be a fundamental violation of religious freedom. We urge the Supreme Court to honor the promise of religious freedom upon which our nation was founded by upholding the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the private school voucher program.”

Laser and other AU legal experts will be in the courtroom today and are available for interviews after the arguments have ended.

Americans United research has revealed:

  • 94 percent of vouchers issued by the Montana voucher program funded religious schools.
  • 70 percent of all private schools in Montana teach a religious curriculum.
  • 10 of the 12 religious schools in the Montana voucher program have discriminatory policies that would allow them to refuse admission to, expel or discipline students for reasons that vary by school but can include a student or parent being LGBTQ, a child having a disability, or the student or parent not following a school’s religious tenets such as accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior or having premarital sex.

A friend-of-the-court brief filed by Americans United and 17 religious freedom and civil rights organizations detailed why the Montana Supreme Court reached the correct decision, including that Montana has demonstrated a longstanding interest in protecting religious freedom by ensuring that public money funds public schools, not private religious education; that its decision was consistent with U.S. Supreme rulings in Locke v. Davey and Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer; and that because the Montana court struck down the entire voucher program for both secular and religious private schools, there is no discrimination against religious schools.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.