Kendra Espinoza, a single mother of two young girls, never dreamed that sending her daughters to a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, would lead her to the national stage. But on Wednesday, her lawsuit, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and its far-reaching implications could impact Pennsylvanians education options.
Espinoza homeschooled her daughters until her husband unexpectedly left, forcing her to enroll them in the local public school. The school wasnt a good fit for her daughters they werent thriving. Stillwater Christian School seemed like the perfect solution, but tuition was more than she could afford. Still, she worked extra jobs, held a big yard sale, and raffled quilts to come up with the money. Her older daughter even mowed lawns to contribute.
It was barely enough.
Then, Espinoza learned of a recently enacted program in Montana, similar to Pennsylvanias tax credit scholarships, that could help her afford tuition for future school years. Her glimmer of hope was short-lived, though. Montanas program bars religious schools, and the state refused to grant her daughters scholarships.
Espinoza felt that amounted to discrimination. She and two other moms in similar situations sued the department with the help of nonprofit law firm, the Institute for Justice. But the Montana Supreme Court doubled down, ruling the entire scholarship program unconstitutional in 2018.
The families appealed and are now before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that ending the scholarship program because it included religious schools violates the First Amendment.
At issue is the Montana constitutions Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the government from giving public funds to religious schools. There are similar provisions in 36 other state constitutions, including right here in Pennsylvania. These amendments trace their roots to the late 1800s, when anti-Catholic sentiment was rampant and protestant legislators sought to starve them of public funds. Congressman James Blaine and many other anti-Catholic legislators required prospective states to adopt Blaine Amendments in order to be admitted to the union and persuaded many existing states to adopt similar amendments.
Now, the Supreme Court will decide if these provisions violate the U.S. Constitution.
The issues presented in Espinoza are not new to the Court. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court upheld an Ohio school voucher program, ruling that it was neutral with respect to religion since parents not the government are the ones directing government aid to the schools.
And in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, the Court found that Missouris denial of a church application for new playground surfacing was a violation of the churchs First Amendment protections by denying a generally available benefit solely on account of the [applicants] religious identity.
If the Court follows the same logic, Espinoza and the other Montana moms stand a good chance of winning. Similar to the situation in Zelman, the Montana program was impartial to religion and was designed to help disadvantaged students. Moreover, the ruling in Trinity Lutheran created a precedent for greater scrutiny when the state excludes a church from public benefits. With these cases setting the stage, the Supreme Court has the opportunity in Espinoza to defend the rights of parents to access public programs without compromising their constitutional rights. As a result, anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments in Montana and dozens of other states, may be laid to rest.
Such an outcome will liberate students across the country including in Pennsylvania to pursue broader educational choices that satisfy their needs. While Pennsylvanias tax credit scholarships pass constitutional muster, removing our Blaine Amendment will open the door to new educational freedoms for students.
If we win at the Supreme Court, it makes a difference for my girls and for so many other families, says Kendra Espinoza. I believe school choice is important for all families, not just for myself and my children. Its my right as a parent to choose how my children are educatednot the governments right.
Colleen Hroncich is a senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org), Pennsylvanias free market think tank.
- Lobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash | TheHill - The Hill - March 26th, 2020
- Judge rules lawsuit alleging Trump threatened free press can move forward | TheHill - The Hill - March 26th, 2020
- Trumps Coronavirus Briefings Are a Ratings Hit. Should Networks Cover Them? - The New York Times - March 26th, 2020
- Relist Watch: 100 years of solitude - SCOTUSblog - March 26th, 2020
- Donald Trump Must Face First Amendment Suit for Revoking Press Badges - Hollywood Reporter - March 25th, 2020
- Robbins: Freedom of worship and the strange case of Warder Cresson - Vail Daily News - March 25th, 2020
- MuzzleWatch: Breaking down the legal attack against the BDS movement - Mondoweiss - March 25th, 2020
- Coronavirus in Arizona: Mayors, cities can't close parks, essentials without going through Governor Ducey - ABC15 Arizona - March 25th, 2020
- Misplaced outrage over who attends a White House press conference | TheHill - The Hill - March 25th, 2020
- Donald Trump Violated First Amendment by Blocking Critics on Twitter, Appeals Court Affirms - Variety - March 24th, 2020
- Sixteen Stormy Days: Tripurdaman Singh's account of the First Amendment to Indian Constitution makes for... - Firstpost - March 24th, 2020
- Keep Federal COVID-19 Package Focused on the Virus and Its Effects - Mackinac Center for Public Policy - March 24th, 2020
- WEHOville Asks John Duran to Stop Blocking It and WeHo Residents on Social Media - WEHOville - March 24th, 2020
- Letter: Government actions going too far on virus - Grand Forks Herald - March 24th, 2020
- First Amendment - Rights, U.S. Constitution & Freedoms ... - March 19th, 2020
- The First Amendment, a Philosophy Professor, and Pronouns - Daily Nous - March 19th, 2020
- Sunshine Week: It's always your right to know - The Highland County Press - March 19th, 2020
- Relist Watch in the Time of Cholera - SCOTUSblog - March 19th, 2020
- Obey the Law - Justia Verdict - March 19th, 2020
- Transparency is transforming | Columns - Weatherford Democrat - March 19th, 2020
- NIST shared dataset of tattoos thats been used to identify prisoners - Naked Security - March 19th, 2020
- PATRIOT Act Morass: Gains and Stalled Reforms - Project On Government Oversight - March 19th, 2020
- COVID-19: Press Freedom and Government Transparency - RCFP - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 19th, 2020
- Trump Isn't the First President to Attack the Press - The Nation - March 19th, 2020
- Rat spotted in Vancouver, Washington - Nwlaborpress - March 19th, 2020
- The Cyberlaw Podcast: Will the First Amendment Kill Free Speech in America? - Lawfare - March 5th, 2020
- The University's First Amendment Rights | Leadership in Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed - March 5th, 2020
- Sen. Blumenthal to receive the First Amendment Defender Award - WTNH.com - March 5th, 2020
- Will the First Amendment Kill Free Speech in America? - Reason - March 5th, 2020
- Donald Trump And Charles Harder Continue Their Assault On The 1st Amendment, Suing The Washington Post - Techdirt - March 5th, 2020
- Do Non-Lawmakers Have A First Amendment Right To Speak Before A Legislative Body? Its A Question In Texas After A Man Testified Wearing A Profane... - March 5th, 2020
- Guest Column: On the 1st Amendment and restrictive resolutions - Oak Ridger - March 5th, 2020
- Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Ro Khanna introduce bill to reform Espionage Act - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 5th, 2020
- Cuellar holds off primary challenge, and other late calls - Politico - March 5th, 2020
- San Francisco expected to pay $369,000 settlement to Bryan Carmody - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 5th, 2020
- EARN IT Act: Instant Reaction - Morning Consult - March 5th, 2020
- Judge: Hearings for Fauquier teen charged in fatal family shootings will remain closed - Fauquier Times - March 5th, 2020
- 'Second Amendment Preservation Bill' Passes Wyoming Committee - Kgab - March 5th, 2020
- Bloomberg Slayed the Myth That Money Buys Elections - National Review - March 5th, 2020
- Negligible 'Never Bernie' - National Review - March 5th, 2020
- Stars and Stripes and the First Amendment - Columbia Journalism Review - February 15th, 2020
- New Graphic Tobacco Warnings and the First Amendment - Newswise - February 15th, 2020
- COMMENTARY: Focus on when the First Amendment protects ... and when it doesn't - Crow River Media - February 15th, 2020
- Its Illegal to Take Drone Photos of Cattle Feedlots in Texas. Press Groups Say That Violates the First Amendment. - The Texas Observer - February 15th, 2020
- FIRST FIVE: Focus on when the First Amendment protects and doesn't - hays Post - February 15th, 2020
- Amend the Hatch Act and Restore Federal Workers' First Amendment Rights - FedSmith.com - February 15th, 2020
- Our View: Be more inclusive for all holy days - The Register-Guard - February 15th, 2020
- How to save journalism - The Boston Globe - February 15th, 2020
- Pelosi, a Ripped Speech, and the Records Debate - FactCheck.org - February 15th, 2020
- Can the Constitution stop the government from lying to the public? - The Fulcrum - February 15th, 2020
- ZACHARY: First Amendment advocates warn of media oversight - Tifton Gazette - January 27th, 2020
- Letters mis-stating the First Amendment and Trump flags - Villages-News - January 27th, 2020
- Witness to the PERSECUTION | Columns | Journal Gazette - Fort Wayne Journal Gazette - January 27th, 2020
- Other voices: Money, speech and truth - St. Paul Pioneer Press - January 27th, 2020
- Over the line in comedy | My View - Santa Fe New Mexican - January 27th, 2020
- Social Studies in the real world: Raceland teacher takes his class on field trip to fiscal court - The Independent - January 27th, 2020
- Reporters Face New Threats From the Governments They Cover - The New York Times - January 27th, 2020
- President Trump Restores the Original Intent of the First Amendment - CNSNews.com - January 25th, 2020
- Letter to the Editor: Supporting the We the People Amendment - Wicked Local - January 25th, 2020
- Gazette opinion: Senate restrictions are an insult to First Amendment - KPVI News 6 - January 25th, 2020
- Could Trump Muzzle John Bolton? The Limits of Executive Privilege, Explained - The New York Times - January 25th, 2020
- Throwback Thursday: The First Amendment's Freedom of Assembly in Action in Nutley NJ - TAPinto.net - January 24th, 2020
- It Violates the First Amendment to Criminalize Immigration Advocacy or Giving Advice to Illegal Immigrants - Cato Institute - January 24th, 2020
- Shattering the First Amendment - The Riverdale Press - January 24th, 2020
- The Unacknowledged Clash Between the Supreme Courts Interpretation of the Religion Clauses and the - Justia Verdict - January 24th, 2020
- Guest column: First Amendment on the docket at the Supreme Court - The Mercury - January 24th, 2020
- City of Scottsdale and The Satanic Temple take the stands in First Amendment-based case - FOX 10 News Phoenix - January 24th, 2020
- Hearing Wednesday: EFF Urges Court To Rule That Blogger's Opinion of Open Source Licensing Agreement is Protected by the First Amendment - EFF - January 24th, 2020
- Choice in education could have impact on 2020 vote - Boston Herald - January 24th, 2020
- GOP candidates outline platforms in their first 14th District debate - Northwest Herald - January 24th, 2020
- HB 2093 Introduced to Nullify Any Violation of 2nd Amendment Laws - Prescott eNews - January 24th, 2020
- Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan and Over 160 More Call for Babson Adjunct Professor to Be Reinstated - Boston magazine - January 24th, 2020
- AG Ferguson leads multistate lawsuit over new Trump Administration effort to allow release of 3D-printed guns - Access Washington - January 24th, 2020
- Lobby Day attracts 2A advocates from the NRV and beyond - Southwest Times - January 24th, 2020
- Op-ed: Did the University forget about the first amendment? - The Michigan Daily - January 18th, 2020
- Facebooks Soleimani Ban Flies in Face of First Amendment - Common Dreams - January 18th, 2020
- Trump Takes Steps to Protect the Right to Pray in Schools - CNSNews.com - January 18th, 2020
- Breaking down the first amendment lawsuit against Florida State Representative Spencer Roach - Fox 4 - January 18th, 2020
- 10 years later, Americans stand opposed to Citizens United | TheHill - The Hill - January 18th, 2020
- Letter: It's the First Amendment that needs sanctuary protection - Verde Independent - January 18th, 2020