DENVER – The U.S. Supreme Court is ordering lower state courts to reconsider rulings in light of its decision Monday that ruled Missouri’s Blane Amendment violated the U.S. Constitution.
The Blane Amendment, versions of which are included in other state constitutions, specifically prohibits public funds from flowing to religious entities, but the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Monday against Missouri using the amendment to block a religious school from participating in a state grant program.
Trinity Lutheran Church sued the state after officials denied its application for a grant program to rubberize school playgrounds, and many school choice proponents believe the Supreme Court decision will have far broader implications for voucher programs nationwide, EAGnews reports.
Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualifies, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution … and cannot stand.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered courts in Colorado and New Mexico to review cases currently pending for appeal in light of Monday’s ruling.
The New Mexico case involves a state textbook-lending program for private schools and a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that held a provision of the state constitution to bar the inclusion of religious schools in the program. …
The Colorado case, involving three separate appeals, stems from an unorthodox effort by the Douglas County school district to create a tuition-scholarship program for students to attend private schools, including religious schools. The Colorado Supreme Court blocked the program based on a Blaine-like, “no aid” provision in the state constitution.
The school district, the Colorado state board of education, and a group of intervening private school parents in the Colorado case all appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Like the New Mexico appeal, the Colorado parties urge the court to rule that the state Blaine amendments violate federal constitutional rights of religious schools or parents.
The Supreme Court sent both cases back to the supreme courts in New Mexico and Colorado “for further consideration in light of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. V. Comer,” according to the court’s order list published Tuesday.
Legal experts both for and against school choice are now arguing about what, exactly, the ruling means for vouchers and other programs previously hampered by the Blane Amendments.
“Today’s order sends a strong signal that just as the U.S. Supreme Court would not tolerate the use of a Blaine Amendment to exclude a religious preschool from a playground resurfacing program, it will not tolerate the use of Blaine Amendments to exclude religious options from school choice programs,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Michael Bindas said.
Bindas is representing private school families in the Colorado case, EdWeek reports.
“Despite a suggestion to the contrary in the dissenting opinion, Trinity Lutheran may very well open the door to requiring state and local governments to include religious entities in voucher programs,” Frank S. Ravitch, a law and religion professor at Michigan State University, wrote in his Scotusblog.
EdWeek points out that opponents of private school choice seem to be acknowledging that Monday’s ruling could turn out to be a big win for school choice.
“This ruling threatens to open the door to more taxpayer support for religion, which is at odds with our history, traditions and common sense,” groaned Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.