By Michael C. Gilleran
Note: Boston-based attorney Michael C. Gilleran is the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees at Thomas More College. He co-authored an amicus brief in defense of Ms. Espinoza in the case of Espinoza vs. Montana State Board of Education, which was cited in the Supreme Court’s decision. Yesterday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in favor of Espinoza is a landmark victory for school choice and religious freedom.
Attorney Gilleran also serves as Board Vice-Chairman of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI). You can find his interview with MFI President Andrew Beckwith on the outcome of Espinoza below.
Yesterday the US Supreme Court, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, has swept aside the bulwarks of hundreds of years of government-sponsored religious bigotry in America. The Court held that state Blaine Amendments can no longer be used to block equal access of religious schools to a generally available public benefit, such as tax credit funded scholarships, which students can use to pay for attending private schools.
Where such tax credits are in place, they permit all state residents to take a small tax credit, with the funds then going into a scholarship program. The scholarship program then doles out the money to students to attend the private schools of their choice. Such a program was at issue in Espinoza. Ms. Espinoza is a single mother, whose two daughters struggled in public schools. She moved them to private religious schools where they thrived. She paid for her daughters to attend these religious schools in part from the tax credits scholarship funds and in part from working three jobs.
The Blaine Amendments are toppling. As the Supreme Court itself points out, they were erected in the nineteenth century as part of a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry. Thirty-six states have them—including New Hampshire, where Thomas More College is located. They have been a bar to school choice for far too long.
Now all of this moves to the world of politics. Change depends on state legislatures enacting tax credit funded scholarship programs permitting use of the scholarship money for private schooling of any kind. The funds could then be taken by the scholarship recipients to religious schools, including Catholic schools. Such scholarship funds could even be used to fund the cost of home education, or some mix of home schooling and classroom instruction.
This landmark decision will provide vast new educational opportunities for many. Study after study shows that poor and minority children thrive outside of inner-city public schools. Many parents, as Justice Alito says in his concurring opinion, may “believe that their local schools inculcate a worldview that is antithetical to what they teach at home.” New schools will be born and alternatives to public schools will blossom.
The Blaine Amendments are falling. Bells ring on this new day for religious freedom and school choice!