An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer may have big implications for school choice. The case deals with one of the biggest obstacles to school choice efforts – the Blaine Amendment.
Blaine Amendments – stemming from anti-Catholic bigotry in the late 1800s – are constitutional provisions found in 38 states, including Utah, that prohibit public funding from going to religious institutions.
This means that when public funds flow to religious private schools through school choice options, opponents argue that it violates their state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.
In 2002, the Supreme Court held that vouchers – an allotment of state money for private school tuition – are constitutional when parents have the choice to select from both religious and nonreligious options. Thus, states are constitutionally permitted to include religious schools in school choice programs like vouchers or education savings accounts. The question in this case is whether states are prohibited, when providing public services and taxpayer-funded grants, from discriminating against religious schools.
In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church applied for state grant to fix its pre-school’s playground equipment, currently in a condition that increases risk of injury if students fall. Missouri denied the grant application, saying it was barred from giving the preschool any funds simply because it is a religious institution. The case now before the Supreme Court asks whether a state’s rejection of a religious institution from receiving secular and neutral state aid violates the First Amendment. If the court rules for Trinity Lutheran Church, vouchers and other school choice policies will be bolstered. The larger effect will be that these policies will likely spread across the nation.
While the Supreme Court could decide to dismiss the case, most anticipate the court deciding the case on its merits in June. Stay tuned for the big decision on religious liberty and school choice.