A Statement for Center for Arizona Policy President, Cathi Herrod, Esq.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed Americans a victory for religious and educational freedom this morning, effectively ruling states cannot discriminate against religious schools in scholarship programs in the case, Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue.

Montana’s Supreme Court had struck down the state’s scholarship tax-credit program because some of the children receiving scholarships attended religious schools.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Montana Supreme Court’s logic and upheld as constitutional a Montana law very similar to and based on Arizona’s scholarship tax credit programs. Like Arizona, Montana taxpayers would receive a tax credit for donations to organizations that award scholarship for students to attend private schools chosen by their parents.

The decision is another 5-4 very divided opinion, this one written by Chief Justice John Roberts. The majority held that the Montana Supreme Court’s invalidation of the law violated the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling means denying students the use of the scholarships to attend a religious school was discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children hope to attend them.

While more time is needed to analyze the opinion, state constitutional provisions like Arizona’s so-called “Blaine Amendment” that prohibit aid to sectarian schools, appear to finally be overturned and no longer valid.

This is great news for families who choose religious schools for their children! It is also a big win for religious freedom, because the ruling called out discrimination against religious schools as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Finally, a special thanks goes to my Montana colleague at the Montana Family Foundation, Jeff Laszloffy, who co-wrote the Montana law along with Institute for Justice (IJ) attorneys.

Among the many friend of the court briefs submitted in favor of upholding the Montana law were those from Arizona leaders. Thanks to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for co-authoring a brief filed by various states showing Arizona’s robust tax credit programs include religious schools. Justice Roberts cited the state brief on page 16 of his opinion, referring to the many states—including those with no-aid provisions—that provide support to religious schools through vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, and other measures.

Thanks also to Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, other legislators – and Arizona School Choice Trust Organization led by former Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough.

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