Supreme Court Considering Case with Massive Implications for Christian Education

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a Montana case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, that will impact Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) and religious education.

Oral arguments took place on January 22, 2020 after Montana parents appealed their case to the Court in March 2019.

The Montana Tax Credit Scholarship Program provides a tax credit of up to $150 for a donation to a SSO to finance scholarships given to families for student tuition at private schools of their choosing. However, the Montana Department of Revenue refused to allow tax credits related to religious private schools citing the state’s Blaine Amendment.

The Montana Department of Revenue’s decision defied the U.S. Supreme Court’s Trinity ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Pauley that religious groups cannot be barred from participation in public programs simply because they are religious. In that case from June 2017, the Court ruled 7-2 that the State of Missouri violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran Church by preventing participation in a government-run, resurfacing program to make playgrounds safer for kids.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito stated in oral arguments for the Espinoza case on January 22 that the state doesn’t have “to fund private education at all, but if they choose to provide scholarships that are available to students who attend private schools, they can’t discriminate against parents who want to send their children to schools that are affiliated in some way with a church… That’s the simple argument. And it’s hard to see that that’s much different from Trinity Lutheran.”

ECFA joined an amicus brief with Christian Legal Society and others urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Montana Supreme Court’s decision against the state tuition tax credit program. The amicus brief was referenced in questioning during oral arguments.

Stay tuned to ECFA’s news page for future developments in the case.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.