Recent Supreme Court Decision Supports Religious Liberty

PHOTO: Montana resident Kendra Espinoza, a key plaintiff in a religious rights case involving school choice, poses for a photo in front of the U.S. Supreme Court with her daughters Sarah and Naomi Jan. 19, 2020. The court ruled June 30 that religious schools can not be excluded from Montana’s school tax-credit program. (CNS photo/Will Dunham, Reuters)

On Tuesday, June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of religious liberty in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Law. The case challenged a decision by the Montana Supreme Court to invalidate a tax credit scholarship program because families benefiting include those who choose to send their children to religiously-affiliated schools, a violation of the Montana state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment” of 1889 against aid to religious schools. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled in favor of the petitioners. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the petitioners. Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J. of Oakland, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, issued the following statement:

“The Court has rightly ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not permit states to discriminate against religion. This decision means that religious persons and organizations can, like everyone else, participate in government programs that are open to all. This is good news, not only for people of faith, but for our country. A strong civil society needs the full participation of religious institutions. By ensuring the rights of faith-based organizations’ freedom to serve, the Court is also promoting the common good.

“The Court has also dealt a blow to the odious legacy of anti-Catholicism in America. Blaine Amendments, which are in 37 states’ constitutions, were the product of nativism and bigotry. They were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We are grateful that the Supreme Court has taken an important step that will help bring an end to this shameful legacy.”

Deacon Scott Conway, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine, said it has taken more than a century for the 1889 Blaine Amendment to be found unconstitutional.

“I look forward to seeing how this will affect schools throughout the State of Florida and the many facets this could open up for our Catholic schools,” he said. “This could open the door to school districts providing nurses, transportation to private schools, access to textbooks and so much more. As tax-paying citizens, our students and their families are entitled to these services just as they are in other states that do not have the Blaine Amendment.”