OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the justices to overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that required the state to exclude religious school options for parents participating in a state tax credit scholarship program.
Montana’s program, enacted by its legislature in 2015, gave a tax credit to taxpayers who donated to a private scholarship organization. The organization then awarded scholarships to eligible children attending private schools. A number of states, including Oklahoma, have enacted similar school choice programs.
Attorney General Hunter was joined on the brief by Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, as well as 15 other state attorneys general and governors.
“The ruling by the Montana Supreme Court discriminates against and punishes parents who choose to send their children to religious schools,” Attorney General Hunter said. “If upheld, it has far-reaching consequences that could threaten school choice programs nationwide, depriving religious, low income and disabled children of a quality education of their choice. My colleagues and I encourage the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse this decision for the benefit of the families across the nation who rely on these programs.”
In the brief, the coalition contends that if the ruling is not reversed, it opens the door for other state courts to interpret laws surrounding similar scholarship programs in the same discriminatory way.
Beyond the baseline statistic, religious schools are more likely than secular schools to participate in these programs, the brief explains. In Oklahoma, for example, 89% of the schools in the state’s tax-credit scholarship program are religious.
The harm also extends to other school choice and social services programs. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program provides scholarships for students with disabilities and 91% of its participating schools are religious.
Brief Points to 2017 Ruling
The brief relies on a previous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, where a church in Missouri had sought public benefits distributed to make playgrounds safer, but had been excluded from the program solely on account of religion—similar to the discrimination in the Montana case.
The court ultimately sided with Trinity Lutheran Church, ruling that the state of Missouri had violated the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause by excluding the church from the program.
At the time, Attorney General Hunter joined a brief in the case on behalf of Trinity Lutheran.
To read the brief, click here.
Joining Oklahoma on the brief are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia, as well as the governors of Kentucky and Mississippi.