WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states violate the Constitution if they prevent religious schools from receiving some state benefits that are available to other schools.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 ruling, which further lowered the wall of separation between the church and the state and will likely affect laws or constitutional provisions in more than two-thirds of the nation that bar public funding for churches and religious schools.
The decision gives a boost to the Trump administration’s efforts to get more public support for students in religious schools, while teachers organizations said such a move would hurt the nation's public schools.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the teachers union National Education Association, condemned the decision, saying, "An extreme Supreme Court just joined the far-right effort to undermine one of our country's most cherished democratic institutions: public education."
The case involved a Montana program launched in 2015 to provide tax credits for people and businesses making donations to private schools. The organizations receiving the contributions passed on the financial aid to parents, who decided which private schools their children should attend.
But shortly after the program was launched, a state agency barred any of the scholarship money from ending up at religious schools. It cited a provision of the Montana Constitution that prohibits "any direct or indirect appropriation or payment ... to aid any church, school ... controlled in whole or in part by any church."
The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the scholarship program violated the state Constitution, so it struck down the entire law, eliminating the payments for both religious and secular schools. The state said that there was no longer any discrimination, because all private schools were treated the same.
But Roberts said that by ending the program, the state improperly discriminated against the schools simply because of their religious status.
"A state need not subsidize private education," he said. "But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, arguing that by ending the program, Montana no longer discriminated... (Read more)
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