There are several high-profile, charged cases set to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court this year. But one, cited in this New York Times preview, is of particular interest to Catholic schools.
Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue tests the state’s ability to exclude religious schools from state aid available to all children. The U.S. Catholic Bishops signed an amicus brief which puts the question this way:
Does it violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools and on the basis of a state-law provision that singles out religious schools for adverse treatment?
Or, can there be any state aid for students and families attending religious schools?
Fairness dictates “yes,” but history is not on our side. At the height of ant-Catholic sentiment in 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech stating that state and federal governments should not “support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford to every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas.” In 19th-century America, “sectarian” typically meant Catholic. And “dogmas” speaks for itself. These sentiments led to the so-called Blaine amendments found in states such as Montana — and Massachusetts — that prohibit even the most common-sense funding for students in religious schools.
Should the Montana Supreme Court action be upheld, it will be a blow to students and families seeking basic fairness from the state while attending religious schools.2