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SCOTUS will review religious tuition tax credit case out of Montana

by | Jul 1, 2019

On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Bladensburg Cross case, we also learned what one of their next church-state cases will be. On June 28, the Court agreed to take up Espinoza vs. Montana Dept. of Revenue, a case involving Montana’s tuition scholarship program, which offered tax credits for private school tuition, including religious schools. The law was struck down by the state’s supreme court in December for violating a provision of the state constitution that prohibits the use of government money to support religious education.

The Montana court in its ruling emphasized that the tax credits went overwhelmingly to offset religious school tuition payments and that the program provided no means for safeguarding against funding religion. Challenging a decision by the state’s Department of Revenue to exclude religious schools from the program (pursuant to Montana law), the plaintiffs argued that the constitutional provision at issue cannot be used to deny tax credits to religious institutions without violating the federal Free Exercise Clause.

It is unclear (for now) what the Supreme Court’s precise focus will be in reviewing this dispute. What is clear is that the case provides yet another opportunity to scrutinize the ability of states to guard against an establishment of religion by restricting the flow of taxpayer dollars to religious institutions.  

The question presented by the Petition reads as follows:

“Does it violate the Religion Clauses or Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools?” 

Stay tuned.