Forcing Montana taxpayers to pay for private religious education violates our fundamental principle of religious freedom.
On January 22, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, a case about whether a state must fund private religious education. The court’s decision, expected by the end of June 2020, could set a dangerous precedent that erodes church-state separation in three-quarters of U.S. states.
In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the state’s entire private school voucher program because it violated the state constitution to force residents to pay for religious education. The vast majority of private schools in the state are religious – 94 percent of taxpayer-funded vouchers in Montana went to private religious schools. Additionally, 10 of the 12 religious schools in the program had discriminatory policies.
Since its inception in 1889, Montana has had a constitutional commitment to protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for religious education. In fact, at least 36 other states have similar constitutional protections.
The case was appealed and will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. AU, joined by 17 religious freedom and civil rights organizations, filed an amicus brief that urged the justices to affirm the Montana court’s decision that protected both religious freedom and public education.
What’s At Stake
We urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional promise of religious freedom for Montanans and all Americans by affirming the lower court’s decision that the Montana voucher program is unconstitutional. The opposition has made it crystal clear that they want to pave the way for private school voucher schemes across the country by gutting these constitutional protections.
We must protect the precedent that all states have the right to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used to fund religious education and religious discrimination. This is the core of our fundamental American principle of religious freedom – that everyone has the right to support their faith, or no faith at all, as long as they don’t harm others.
Additionally, taxpayers should not be forced to support private religious schools that have free rein to discriminate against children and families if they don’t share the school’s religious beliefs, if a student or parent is LGBTQ, if the child has a disability, or if they don’t follow a school’s religious tenets such as accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior or having premarital sex.
SCOTUS has never ruled that states must fund religious education. To do so would be an extraordinary federal intrusion into the constitutional and public education affairs of our states.
Nov. 15, 2019: Americans United, joined by 17 religious freedom and civil rights organizations, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court to affirm the decision of the Montana Supreme Court to strike down the state's private school voucher program that forced taxpayers to fund religious education. Read AU's brief here; read our statement here; and read a blog post here.
Dec. 12, 2018: The Montana Supreme Court struck down the state's private school voucher program because it violated the Montana Constitution, which protects taxpayers from being forced to fund private religious education. Read AU's statement here and a blog post here.
Nov. 21, 2017: Americans United, joined by the ACLU and ADL, filed an amicus brief with the Montana Supreme Court, urging the court to protect taxpayers' religious freedom by affirming that the state's Department of Revenue was correct in blocking a private school voucher program from funding religious education. Read AU's brief here and a blog post here.
Washington Post, Jan. 21, 2020: "Do you want your tax dollars to fund religious education? You shouldn’t."
USA Today, Jan. 21, 2020: "Supreme Court battle over school choice may boost religious freedom"
Reuters, Jan. 20, 2020: "Supreme Court religious rights case has big implications for U.S. schools"
Huffington Post, Jan. 16, 2020: "An Under-The-Radar SCOTUS Case Could Obliterate The Line Between Church And State"
Deseret News, Sept. 22, 2020: "8 religion-related cases to watch when the Supreme Court is back in session"
New York Times, Aug. 14, 2018: "Kavanaugh Could Unlock Funding for Religious Education, School Voucher Advocates Say"