WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has ruled that states can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education.
The court’s 5-4 ruling, with conservatives in the majority, came Tuesday in a dispute over a Montana scholarship program for private K-12 education that also makes donors eligible for up to $150 in state tax credits.
Montana’s highest court had struck down the tax credit as a violation of the state constitution’s ban on state aid to religious schools.
The scholarships can be used at both secular and religious schools, but almost all the recipients attend religious schools.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion that said the state ruling itself ran afoul of the religious freedom, embodied in the U.S. Constitution, of parents who want the scholarships to help pay for their children’s private education.
“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,” Roberts wrote.
In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the ruling as “perverse.”
“Without any need or power to do so, the Court appears to require a State to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place,” she said.
Parents whose children attend religious schools sued to preserve the program.
The high court decision upholds families’ rights “to exercise our religion as we see fit,” said Kendra Espinoza, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit whose two daughters attend the Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Montana, near Glacier National Park.