The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling penned by Chief Justice Roberts, has deemed that a Montana state tax credit program that directed money to private schools could not exclude religious schools.
“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion with the support of the other four conservative justices.
In dissent, Justice Breyer, wrote: “If, for 250 years, we have drawn a line at forcing taxpayers to pay the salaries of those who teach their faith from the pulpit, I do not see how we can today require Montana to adopt a different view respecting those who teach it in the classroom.”
While Justice Sotomayor in her dissent, claimed that the decision was “perverse.” “Without any need or power to do so, the Court appears to require a State to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place,” she wrote.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos applauded the ruling, “Today’s decision is a historic victory for America’s students and all those who believe in fundamental fairness and freedom. Each and every student needs the freedom to find their education fit, and today the Highest Court in the Land has protected that right by ensuring that families can use taxpayer funds to choose schools that match their values and educational goals, including faith-based schools.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called the decision “a seismic shock that threatens both public education and religious liberty.”
“Never in more than two centuries of American history has the free exercise clause of the First Amendment been wielded as a weapon to defund and dismantle public education. It will hurt both the 90 percent of students who attend neighborhood public schools, by siphoning off needed funds, and, in the long term, those who attend religious schools by curtailing their freedom with the accountability that comes with tax dollars,” continued Weingarten, who also warned that, “the financial backers of this case will now use it to open the floodgates to litigation across the country.”
“I hope the court and the plaintiffs understand that by enabling this encroachment on religious liberty, they are also opening up religion to state control and state interference. With public funding comes public accountability. Upending the carefully constructed balance of free exercise and separation of church and state not only undermines public education, it is a grave threat to religious institutions and organizations,” added Weingarten.
National Education Association president, Lily Eskelsen García, similarly, criticized the decision, saying that “the court has made things even worse, opening the door for further attacks on state decisions not to fund religious schools.”