Religious-Freedom Case Gets Its Day in Court

Religious-Freedom Case Gets Its Day in Court

( – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has decided to tackle freedom of religion in the second half of its term. Recently, the court heard oral arguments in the case and now the parties are awaiting a ruling.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, is challenging a Montana law that bars public funds from being spent on religious schools. Three mothers sued the state after their kids lost their scholarships to religious schools.

The conflict started when Montana started a program that allowed parents to use a tax credit to help pay for private schools. The mothers sent their kids to private religious schools but the state decided they would not qualify for the credit. Montana’s Blaine amendment prevents public money from being spent on religious schools.

Parents were rightfully upset when they were suddenly informed that they would not be allowed to exercise their rights and put their kids in a good school. Instead of just dropping it, the moms sued the state for alleged violations of their First Amendment rights. After winding its way through the lower courts, it finally had its day in the Supreme Court.

During oral arguments, two other SCOTUS cases were thrust forward. The Trinity Lutheran v. Comer ruling held that Missouri violated a school’s rights by denying its public benefits because of its religious beliefs.

In its ruling, the Court cited its 1947 Everson v. Board of Education ruling that found a state:

“…cannot hamper its citizens in the free exercise of their own religion. Consequently, it cannot exclude individual Catholics, Lutherans, Mohammedans, Baptists, Jews, Methodists, Non-believers, Presbyterians, or the members of any other faith, because of their faith, or lack of it, from receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation.”

During opening arguments, the mothers’ attorneys argued the Montana law is religious discrimination. They have been denied the right to use a public benefit for their children merely because they are religious.

By not treating these children the same as the other kids who are not religious, the state has singled them out for discrimination. If the state is going to provide a neutral public benefit, all of the students should be treated equally.

The Court is expected to hand down a ruling this summer.

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