AU And Allies Are Fighting Vouchers In Montana

Americans United and its allies are urging the Montana Supreme Court to rule that the state was right to stop taxpayer money from funding religious education through a tax-credit voucher scheme.

Joined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Montana and the Anti-Defamation League, AU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue asking the state’s high court to reverse a trial court’s ruling that allows public money to fund a voucher-like tuition tax credit program through private religious education.

Montana’s Department of Revenue did not allow religious schools to participate in the state’s tuition tax credit program because state officials wanted to honor Montana’s Constitution, which has a clause that protects freedom of conscience of Montana residents by ensuring that tax revenues can’t be diverted to fund religion. Some residents didn’t like that and sued.

AU and its allies argue that the state’s Department of Revenue was correct to exclude religious education from the program.  

“Montana students and their parents certainly have a fundamental right to choose a religious education, but not at the state’s expense,” the brief reads. “Montana’s government is expressly barred from providing ‘direct or indirect’ aid for religious education.” 

Public money should fund public schools.

The groups emphasized that the provision in Montana’s Constitution barring taxpayer aid to religion protects the religious freedom rights of state residents.

The Department of Revenue honoring the state’s constitution by stopping public money from funding religious schools “cannot be understood as being based in hostility toward religion,” AU and its allies argued. “Indeed, it is not antireligious to require that decisions about the religious education and spiritual life of children be left to their families and houses of worship, without either governmental funding or intrusion.”

Private school voucher programs continue to be a problem nationwide. They’ve surfaced in many states in various forms, and the Trump administration continues prioritizing these schemes. That’s why AU also recently joined 50 organizations in submitting comments through the National Coalition for Public Education, which AU co-chairs, to tell the Trump administration that public dollars should fund public schools, which educate 90 percent of American children.

Taxpayers can’t afford to fund two education systems – one public and one private. Voucher programs are bad public policy. Take action by contacting your representatives in Congress and letting them know you support public schools.