Today has been an excellent day for school choice!
The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state’s tax-credit scholarship program may continue, resolving a three-year legal battle. This is the Institute for Justice’s sixth state supreme court win for school choice. This decision will ensure that 13,000 children can continue to use the scholarship program for their educations.
Also, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia vs Comer case that religious institutions can be eligible for state funding programs in a seven to two ruling. Essentially, government cannot discriminate against institutions based on their religious status. Although this is not a complete win, it certainly moves the Blaine Amendment conversation in the right direction.
Two Court Cases Plus Two Voucher Studies Equals Four School Choice Wins
(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
There’s so much good news for school choice today, it’s hard to know where to begin.
A Legal Victory in the Peach State
I woke up this morning to the news that the Georgia Supreme Court had unanimously ruled that private donations to private nonprofit scholarship organizations that help children attend private schools are (shocker!) private funds, even if the donors receive a tax credit:
We also reject the assertion that plaintiffs have standing because these tax credits actually amount to unconstitutional expenditures of tax revenues or public funds. The statutes that govern the Program demonstrate that only private funds, and not public revenue, are used.
I discuss the case and its implications in greater detail here.
SCOTUS Strikes Down Discrimination Against Religion — But Saves Blaine for Another Day
A couple hours later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Trinity Lutheran v. Missouri that it is unconstitutional to exclude religious organizations from benefiting from secular aid programs that are otherwise neutral with respect to religion. As Neal McCluskey explains, the court didn’t go as far as many school choice advocates would have liked, but it is unambiguously a step in the right direction. Writing for the majority, Justice Roberts wrote:
It is true the Department has not criminalized the way Trinity Lutheran worships or told the Church that it cannot subscribe to a certain view of the Gospel. But, as the Department itself acknowledges, the Free Exercise Clause protects against “indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.” […] As the Court put it more than 50 years ago, “[i]t is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege.” […]
Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character. The “imposition of such a condition upon even a gratuitous benefit inevitably deter[s] or discourage[s] the exercise of First Amendment rights.” […] The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant. [citations omitted]