Landmark Decision Paves the Way for Expanding Minnesota Educational Freedom

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled today that student-aid programs could not be struck down for including religious school options.

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court held that prohibiting religious schools in school choice programs violates the First Amendment’s protections for religious liberty. Represented by the Institute for Justice, the three plaintiffs—Montana mothers Kendra Espinoza, Jeri Anderson and Jamie Schaefer—brought the suit to challenge the Montana Supreme Court’s wielding of the Blaine Amendment to strike down the state’s tax-credit scholarship program in its entirety. The Montana Supreme Court concluded the tax-credit program violated the state’s constitution because it permitted participating families to send their children to religiously-affiliated schools.

But, as the High Court confirmed today, Blaine amendments are discriminatory in nature and can no longer be used against families to prevent them from accessing school choice options.

In Minnesota, Democratic legislators have been fighting against the Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act (a tax-credit scholarship program similar to Montana’s) that would provide school choice for students stuck in failing public schools. One of their arguments has been that the state of Minnesota, through its Blaine Amendment, can discriminate against families who choose religious private education. The Supreme Court’s decision invalidates that argument, and gives hope to low-income and minority students who need better educational options to succeed.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The Blaine Amendment was ‘born of bigotry’ and ‘arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general’; many of its state counterparts have a similarly ‘shameful pedigree.’” He added, “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.”

Minnesota’s Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act legislation would eliminate financial barriers for low-income students to attend a school of their choice. The scholarships would be funded through private contributions and would be eligible for a state tax credit, up to certain limits.