Secular Advocates Denounce Supreme Court Decision Forcing Taxpayers to Pay for Religious Schooling


For Immediate Release: June 30, 2020
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

The Center for Inquiry condemned today’s Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue for forcing American taxpayers to pay for religious indoctrination, gutting the protections in both the United States Constitution and in No Aid Provisions of three-quarters of state constitutions that forbid the use of taxpayer dollars for religious purposes.

“This Court has been opening a hole up in Thomas Jefferson’s Wall of Separation between church and state,” said Nick Little, Vice President and Legal Director of the Center for Inquiry, an organization that advances reason, science, and secularism. “Now they’ve built a two-lane highway through that hole, inviting churches to raid the public treasury and drive gleefully away with taxpayer money.”

In 2015 Montana enacted a tax credit voucher program whereby taxpayers received a credit for donating money to Student Scholarship Organizations, which would fund scholarships for students attending private schools. As the overwhelming majority of private schools in Montana (and across the country) are religious, and the Montana Constitution, Article X, Section 6, specifically bans the use of tax dollars for religious education, the Montana Department of Revenue adopted Rule 1, stating that the vouchers could not be used to pay for religious education provided by religious schools. Parents at religious schools sued.

The Montana Supreme Court in 2018 found that such support for religious schools would violate the Montana Constitution and struck down the entire program, preventing the vouchers being used at any private school, religious or not. Despite the fact that the program no longer exists, the Supreme Court nonetheless agreed to review the ruling.

“Let’s be clear about what just happened: The Supreme Court has decided that atheist taxpayers are now required to fund religious schools,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “Members of non-Christian faiths are now required to fund Christian education. The religious right has gotten exactly what it wanted from Trump’s justices: the erasure of a fundamental principle of American law, that no person shall be forced to participate in religious expression by subsidizing religious education.” 

“This ruling sets us on a dark, theocratic path,” continued Nick Little. “The Founders made clear that the public purse must not fund religious activities, especially education. Now, with this ruling, it not only can fund them, but it is compelled to.”

In November 2019, CFI joined an amicus brief supporting the Montana Department of Revenue in upholding Montana’s constitutional separation of church and state. CFI is also a proud member of the National Coalition for Public Education, which vocally opposes all forms of private school voucher legislation in the U.S. Congress. In June 2020, CFI joined a diverse coalition urging congressional leadership to strike language in COVID-19 relief legislation that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had used to divert emergency education funds to a private voucher scheme.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.