By a 5-4 conservative majority, the Supreme Court of the United State (SCOTUS) today struck down a Montana law that withheld state aid to private schools, including religious schools, arguing law was akin to discrimination. The decision in Espinoza v. Montana opens the door for lawsuits against similar laws in other states, as well as more broad funding for religious education through publicly funded programs.
As Justice Sonia Sotomayor notes in her dissent, the decision overturns decades of precedent regarding the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses:”Previously, this Court recognized that a ‘prophylactic rule against the use of public funds’ for ‘religious activities’ appropriately balanced the Religion Clauses’ differing but equally weighty interests.” She added, “a State’s decision not to fund religious activity does not ‘disfavor religion; rather, it represents a valid choice to remain secular in the face of serious establishment and free exercise concerns.'”
In response, Casey Brinck, Director of Policy & Government Affairs for the Secular Coalition for America, said:
“This decision flies in the face of precedent and should deeply concern any American who believes in our Constitution and the rock solid clause contained within it regarding the separation of church and state. The Court has opened the door for the religious right, and other nefarious religious groups, lauding their attempts to secure state funding to subsidize their spiritual practices—a truly un-American act by our nation’s highest court that treats every nonbeliever in our country like a second-class citizen.
“As of today, the government can spend our tax dollars on indoctrinating children into a religious belief system that fundamentally, and often irrevocably, alters their worldview—despite the fact that kids don’t have the context or critical thinking skills to understand what they’re learning. If parents want to send their kids to a religious school that is their choice, but public dollars should not go toward any explicitly religious activity, period.
“Public schools are secular because it is the best guarantee of religious freedom for Americans of every faith, as well as for the nearly 60 million atheist, agnostic, and humanist adults who deserve to send their children to school knowing they’ll be taught facts, not religious propaganda. Yet now, public schools across the country may need to compete against government programs funneling taxpayer money into religious schools, and that may just be the start as the religious right works to replicate this decision in other areas of society.
“Make no mistake, this is a result of President Trump’s promise to add more conservative judges to the federal judiciary—many of whom are deeply unqualified. From day one, the President and his administration have bent over backward to please the religious right and that will continue until he is voted out of office. Tens of millions of nonbelievers across the country, many of whom live in battleground states, understand what’s at stake and are prepared to vote this fall for a president that puts the Constitution, scientific research, and evidence, over personal religious beliefs and political aspirations.”