Supreme Court should uphold the law’s distinctive treatment of religion in Espinoza

Hollman: SCOTUS should not upend how religious liberty is protected

Nov 15, 2019

Media contact: Cherilyn Crowe / [email protected] / Cell: 202.670.5877

WASHINGTON – Avoiding government funding of religion is a key protection for religious liberty that protects against government interference in religion. BJC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue defending the unique treatment of religion in state constitutions. The case involves a tax credit that supports private school scholarships.

The following is a statement from Holly Hollman, general counsel of BJC:

“Religious individuals and institutions, including religious schools, benefit from the law’s distinct treatment of religion. Both avoiding government sponsorship of religion and preventing government interference with religious practice are central elements of our country’s historic tradition protecting religious liberty.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the Free Exercise Clause demands government funding of religion. To do so would, in effect, re-write state constitutions and upend the way religious liberty is protected.”

The distinct treatment of religion keeps government from controlling the beliefs and practices that religious schools teach. In Espinoza, the Court is being asked to require that the state provide benefits to religious institutions whenever it does for private secular ones. But, doing so would damage religious liberty. As in Trinity Lutheran Church (2017), BJC is defending the distinctive treatment of religion in law and countering the false and damaging narrative that misrepresents the prohibition on government-funded religion.

BJC’s brief was written with Dr. Steven Green, a professor of law at Willamette University and the nation’s leading expert on religious liberty and state constitutions.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the General Synod of the United Church of Christ; and the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), joined BJC’s brief.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case January 22. Visit for the latest information and to read BJC’s brief in this case.


BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty) is an 83-year-old religiously based organization working to defend faith freedom for all and protect the institutional separation of church and state in the historic Baptist tradition.


“The distinctiveness of religion (not animus toward any particular religion or religion in general) and importance of religious liberty explain its special treatment in our constitutional tradition.”

“A principle of governmental non-interference in religion, particularly non-interference with internal decisions that affect the faith and mission of a church, is a central theme in the protection of religious liberty.”

“The attack on Montana’s no-aid provision as a remnant of ‘naked religious bigotry’ … misrepresents a long tradition of non-interference with religion, undermines the complementary nature of religious liberty provisions in our national and state polity, and disregards the distinctiveness of religion.”

“Petitioners’ demand for a state program for equal funding ignores the distinctiveness of religion and the various ways religious education operates to promote faith formation. It ignores the relationship between support and accountability in public programs and the limits on governmental interference in religion.”