Parents who believe religious schools such as Stillwater absolutely are the places for their children are at the center of what could be a landmark Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of state laws that exclude religious organizations from government funding available to others. In this case, the issue rests on whether a scholarship fund supported by tax-deductible donations can help children attending the state’s private schools, most of which are religious.
A decision in their favor would “remove a major barrier to educational opportunity for children nationwide,” plaintiffs said in their brief to the Supreme Court. It is part of a movement by school choice advocates such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to allow government support of students seeking what she recently called “faith-based education.”
Said Erica Smith, a lawyer representing the parents: “If we win this case, it will be the U.S. Supreme Court once again saying that school choice is fully constitutional and it’s a good thing and it’s something parents should have. And that will provide momentum to the entire country.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said such a ruling would be a “virtual earthquake,” devastating to the way states fund public education.
And Montana told the court that, as in 37 other states, it is reasonable for its constitution to prohibit direct or indirect aid to religious organizations.
“The No-Aid Clause does not prohibit any religious practice,” Montana said in its brief. “Nor does it authorize any discriminatory benefits program. It simply says that Montana will not financially aid religious schools.”