Supreme Court Rules Montana Can’t Exclude Religious Schools From State Scholarships

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states providing taxpayer scholarships to private schools must also include religious schools in a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s four conservatives writing the majority opinion.

The court’s ruling upheld Montana’s state scholarship program that the state supreme court found at odds with the state constitution which prohibits any state aid to religious schools while the federal justices declared it unlawful to exclude religious institutions from private school voucher programs.

“A state need not subsidize private education,” Roberts wrote. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The case traces its origins back to 2015 when the Montana state legislature passed a bill incentivizing individuals to donate to organizations that provide scholarship money to students seeking attendance in private schools with a new dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Shortly after its passage, the Montana Department of Revenue implemented rules to bar tax dollars from going to religious private schools. According to NPR, 70 percent of Montana’s private schools happen to be religious.

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Three mothers in Kalispell, Montana who sent their children to Stillwater Christian School then sued over the state’s provisions. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire program however, in a ruling reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday.

Roberts wrote that the Montana Constitution’s no-aid provision “bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools.”

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