A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a dispute over public funding for parents who send their children to religious schools was applauded by Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom. The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue involves a Montana law that created tax credits to provide scholarships for families who send their children to private schools, including religious schools.
The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the law violated the Constitution because it helped religious institutions. Three low-income mothers, who used the scholarships to send their children to a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, are seeking relief form the highest court.
Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case on behalf of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization in support of petitioners on April 15. It asked the court to hear the case and strike down the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling, which invalidated a tax credit of up to $150 for donating to student scholarship organizations because students and parents who receive those funds might use them at a religious school.
“States cannot base laws on hostility to religion. Likewise, no provision of Montana’s constitution can enshrine hostility to religion into state law. We commend the Supreme Court for taking this case,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel John Bursch. “The court’s recent Trinity Lutheran decision, which the Montana Supreme Court entirely ignored, clearly should apply here. As the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirmed in that decision, states cannot impose ‘special disabilities on the basis of religious views or religious status.’ The high court should not allow the dead hand of 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry, which motivated the state constitutional provision at issue here, to put a stranglehold on educational resources desperately needed by parents and their children.”
Alliance Defending Freedom wrote in their brief:
The Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) gives Arizona students the opportunity to receive a private Christian education. ACSTO and its mission are made possible by Arizona’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, which allows Arizona taxpayers to obtain dollar-for-dollar tax credits for contributions to school tuition organizations. School tuition organizations then, in turn, direct those taxpayer contributions to pay tuition for students at private schools in Arizona.
ACSTO began in 1998 as Arizona’s first school tuition organization, and since then has awarded over $200 million in scholarships to 34,000 students attending 150 Arizona Christian schools.
ACSTO has tirelessly championed and defended Arizona’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. In 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual scholarship credit in Kotterman v. Killian, 972 P.2d 606 (Ariz. 1999).
ACSTO also defended the program against an Establishment Clause challenge, prevailing in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, in which this Court ruled for ACSTO on the ground that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Arizona’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. 563 U.S. 125 (2011).
ACSTO is interested in preserving Arizona’s Tax Credit Scholarship program and expanding school choice across the country. Montana’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program operates similarly to Arizona’s program, and ACSTO has a keen interest in ensuring that such programs survive unjustified legal challenges so that families can send their children to schools of their choice, including religious schools.