The landmark Education case before the Supreme Court of the United States could end the decades of wrangling over religious education. Espinosa v Montana Department of Revenue might be a potential watershed moment in public education.
The Supreme Court is to decide whether the release of state funds is possible. This is to help pay tuitions at religious schools. The parents of the religious school students sued for access to the educational choice program. This program provides for a tax credit for tuition help. Therefore, donations to private organizations receive tax credits. These donations help low-income families through scholarships. However, the Constitution prohibits funding religious education and allowance of the funding is only to the secular schools. The provision dates back to 1884. This was to avoid disputes on religious freedoms.
The case comes from the state of Montana. It challenges a decision which shut down the program as unconstitutional. There is a provision in its Constitution which prohibits the use of government funding for any religious purposes. Thus, Montana Supreme Court held that all private schools should have equal treatment. These provisions exist in 37 other states too.
The Institute for Justice is representing the Montana families. They argued that it was time to allow funding to religious schools. They require permission to take part in the educational choice program. Moreover, this permission is a decision of the state or the federal circuit where the child resides. Therefore, the denial for participation based on the student’s house is unfair. Eighteen states offer tax credit scholarship programs.
Furthermore, they argued that the amendment penalises parents who choose religious over secular schools. Thus, that amounts to discrimination against their children. Also, it violates their client’s rights to exercise religion and equal protection.
Several Amicus briefs poured in this case. One said that the ruling against Montana would force taxpayers to fund religious discrimination in schools.
The respondents argued that the protection of the status quo must be upheld. Currently, there is no money going to either religious or non-religious schools, and there isn’t any discrimination. It was further said that, prohibiting state funding is protecting religious freedom. Reversal of the Montana amendment would risk the government intervention into religion.
Implications of the Decision
The country has long-standing religious freedom principles. But, over time, the tussle between religion and government has only grown. Thus, this legal battle is a path-breaking one. It must be seen that it requires to strike a balance between state and religion. The principle aim is to keep the state out of religion and to protect the faith of the citizens.
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