03 Sep 2020

Supreme Court Ruling On Religious Schools

Stephen Rawlings

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, the United States Supreme Court met to hear a particularly important case for religious institutions: Espinoza Versus Montana Department of Revenue.

Why is this case significant?

The First Amendment's meaning is continually being examined by the courts today, and the Supreme Court's decision on this case marked a historic event concerning the protection of religious liberty.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue raises the question, "Can state scholarship aid help pay for private school tuition?"

Suppose the Supreme Court ruled against state financial aid being used for private school tuition. In that case, the effects could be detrimental to the future generation's ability to further their education in their religious institution of choice.

However, on the other hand, religious institutions could be strengthened by the outcome of this critical case.

In today's blog, we will discuss the Supreme Court's decision on June 30, 2020 and its effects on religious institutions. First, to fully understand this case, we need to examine the original case held in the lower court system.

The Lower Court Ruling

In 2015, Montana passed a tax break to help fund nonprofit organizations assist low-income families in paying for private schooling. However, this piece of legislation had Blaine Amendments in effect.

Blaine Amendments were used to prevent religious schools' funding and are meant to further separate church and state.

The original purpose of the Blaine Amendments was to prevent government interference and favoritism of any religious institution.

As is the case in Montana V. Espinoza, Blaine Amendments could also force people to choose a secular institution over a private religious institution.

Three low-income families found that this tax break would be beneficial for them, but they were denied the tax break because of their preference for a religious school.

The Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that has fought against Blaine Amendments, defended the low-income families.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the entire tax break program was unconstitutional since it could benefit a religious school and violate the Montana no-aid clause. 

The families petitioned to the United States Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court decided to hear the case on January 22, 2020. You can read more details about this court case in our blog here.

Supreme Court Decision

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the low-income families in a ruling of 5-4. Chief Justice John Roberts spoke to the majority opinion of the court.

He states the free exercise clause "bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools" and "also bars parents who wish to send their children to a religious school from those same benefits, again solely because of the religious character of the school."

In response to the state providing funding for education, Chief Justice John Roberts had this to say, "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."

To explain further, there is no mandate enforcing state governments to provide funding for education. However, if they choose to do so, religious preferences cannot be the deciding factor in allocating funds for the organization.

Read this article to learn more about the Supreme Court's decision. 

What does this mean for your organization?

This ruling is a huge win for religious organizations. Churches and religious nonprofits may be disqualified from certain grants, but that is not due to religious beliefs.

This case is not the first time that the Supreme Court upheld religious liberties granted by the First Amendment in recent history. In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, INC. v. Comer. Read this blog to find out more about the importance of this landmark case.

In this case, the ruling upheld that the program providing a free playground to any school that was not religious violated the First Amendment right of Free Exercise.

What can we take away from these cases?

Churches and ministries often receive scrutiny based on religious beliefs, but there is still much legal protection and hope surrounding faith-based organizations. 

Although the Church is facing many legal challenges in these times, we can find comfort in these words in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Protection for the Future

It's time to make sure your church has a firm legal foundation. To protect your organization, you need several items in place, including defined governing documents, properly kept financial records, and board meeting minutes. 

When was the last time your organization looked over your governing documents? 

Do they need to be updated?

Each year, your governing documents should be examined to make sure they still adequately describe your organization. We pray that scrutiny never falls upon your organization, but preparation accounts for wisdom. 

With our KeepRIGHT Service, you will feel confident and secure knowing you are maintaining annual legal compliance with your organization. Please give us a call at 877-494-4655 to speak with a KeepRIGHT consultant today!

While StartCHURCH does not provide legal advice, we do provide clerical assistance to help you process your own articles of incorporation and prepare your own bylaws to fortify your legal foundation.

Whether you need to plant your church on a solid legal foundation or need help maintaining annual legal compliance, we are here to help you protect what God has called you to lead. Let us know how we can assist you by calling us at 877-494-4655 or by clicking the link below!

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Blessings,
Raul Rivera


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