Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue might not seem like a landmark legal battle on paper but trust us on this one. Fortunately for the conservative thinkers out there, this battle went against the leftists. Are all of the liberal papers going to talk about John Roberts today and laud him as a freedom fighter? We highly doubt it but that is okay.
Religious schools now have the ability to breathe a bit more easily and that is all that matters. In a country where it feels like the religious right is constantly under attack, rulings like this provide people with the hope that they need to carry on. The 5-4 decision gives them all a chance to celebrate today.
For those who are unfamiliar with the case, the dispute was centered around state scholarships. The ruling ensures that these scholarships cannot denied on any sort of religious basis. If the parents or the schools choose an institution that is religious in nature, no one has the right to block them from making such a decision.
The Blaine Amendments in a number of states are going to be feeling the blow. It’s a decision that is sure to cause a sizable amount of ripple effects. The five conservative members of the Supreme Court voted in favor and as you would have expected, the four Democratic appointees decided to vote against it.
John Roberts wrote that the decision would not be considered constitutional because religious schools are being deprived of public benefits. No school should ever be deprived of benefits because of their religious beliefs and that’s what these appointees were fighting for. The Montana Department of Revenue had barred children from being able to use scholarships in such a way but all of that is over.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. He was joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The court’s four Democratic appointees dissented.
Roberts wrote that a decision by the Montana Supreme Court to invalidate a scholarship program on the basis that it would provide funding to religious schools in addition to secular schools “bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools.” …
Shortly after the program was enacted, the Montana Department of Revenue put in place a rule that barred scholarship recipients from using funds from the program to pay for religious schools.
That rule was intended to comply with a provision of the Montana Constitution, which forbids “any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies … for any sectarian purpose,” including “to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution.”
Similar prohibitions, known as Blaine Amendments, exist in the constitutions of 36 other states, and in many cases stemmed from anti-Catholic sentiments.
Justice Samuel Alito is willing to get specific about the issues that the Blaine Amendments cause, even if John Roberts is not. Roberts was not willing to broach the topic much when he spoke about the ruling. Alito believes that the amendments are not achieving their desired goal because their backers tend to speak from a native’s point of view.
Those who are not willing to speak in such a manner are still willing to capitalize on the amendments anyway. Meanwhile, there are those who want to argue in favor of the amendments by claiming that they preserve the necessary funding for the state’s public schools. Since these amendments cannot be separated from the context that they were created in, it is time for changes to be made.
Montana could not defend their Blaine Amendment because there is nothing to defend. The only reason that the vote did not pass with a 9-0 count is because the Democrats will vote against anything that the conservatives want. Roberts is relying on Trinity Lutheran’s precedent to carry the day, as he clearly does not wish to harp on the Blaine Amendments.
Justice Gorsuch writes separately to argue that the maj. op.'s status-based holding does not go far enough.
He emphasizes that the free exercise clause protects religious status as well as religious acts. pic.twitter.com/4RLM0mPi5p
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) June 30, 2020
The Trinity Lutheran decision provides us with an easy road map to these choices. Why should anyone be denied any form of public benefits because they are a religious believer? Sometimes, things are made more complicated than they truly have to be but thanks to the Supreme Court, this is one problem that has been simplified.
According to Roberts, the issue at hand in this case was even worse than the infringement that took place during the Trinity Lutheran case. The attack on religious liberty has such a broad effect and that’s why the Supreme Court had to step in. At least there is someone out there who still cares about the rights of those who consider themselves religious.
Religious liberty has received a strong defense from Roberts. We are forever grateful to him for doing so. Roberts is not known for endearing himself to the conservative thinkers, so perhaps this is a good sign for the future. Even those who do not consider themselves to be right wingers are getting fed up with the status quo.