For Orthodox Groups, The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Aid To Religious Schools Is A Big Win

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The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – For Orthodox Jewish advocacy groups, the last day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 session brought a big win.

On Tuesday, the high court handed school voucher proponents a victory in ruling that a state-run scholarship program funded by tax-deductible gifts could not exclude religious schools. The court split 5-4 in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, with Chief Justice John Roberts providing the swing vote by joining the conservative justices.

“A State need not subsidize private education,” Roberts wrote. “But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The case was significant for Orthodox Jewish advocacy groups that have fought alongside Christian groups for expanded state aid to parochial schools. For most Orthodox families, parochial schools are considered an expensive necessity, and both the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel, two major Orthodox organizations, filed briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“Over the past decade, the Orthodox Union’s advocacy work has spearheaded the creation or expansion of many state aid programs to support parental choice in education,” Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said in a statement applauding the ruling. “Today’s strong ruling from the Supreme Court solidifies the legal bases for these programs and bolsters their long-term benefits for the Jewish community and other faith communities.”

“Agudath Israel has played a leading role in advocating for programs that make it easier for parents to choose private and religious schools,” Rabbi A. D. Motzen, Agudath Israel of America’s national director of state relations, said in a statement. “Today’s ruling endorses Agudah’s longtime position that states may not bar families from using state aid at the school of their choice simply because they choose a religious option.”

The case, in which the Montana Supreme Court had ruled that a scholarship program funded by tax-deductible donations had to be dismantled because scholarships used for religious schools would violate the state constitution’s “no-aid” clause, was viewed as a proxy in the fight over school vouchers. School vouchers are programs through which states allow parents to use taxpayer money to pay for tuition at private schools, most of which are religious in the United States.

Critics of no-aid clauses, also known as Blaine Amendments, have cited their origins in arguing against their enforcement. The amendments, which were rooted in anti-Catholic sentiment, were added to state constitutions in the late 19th century to prohibit the use of state funds for religious private schools.

It’s unclear whether and how the ruling will affect Jewish schools in the short term. The ruling does not compel states to offer voucher programs, and New York and New Jersey, home to the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish communities and most Orthodox schools, do not permit vouchers. Lawmakers there are unlikely to create voucher programs, which are favored by political conservatives.

Still, the case matters because it nudges open the door for state funding to flow more often to religious schools. It follows a 2017 case in which the court ruled that a church could not be excluded from receiving government benefits because of its status as a religious organization.

“If you wanted to boil down the key contribution of the opinion, it’s the application of the rule from 2017 to schools,” said Michael Helfand, associate dean for faculty and research at Pepperdine University’s Caruso School of Law. “Ultimately it nudges the ball down the road in terms of the ability of schools to get equal treatment.”

That is increasingly the agenda for Orthodox groups. Fagin of the Orthodox Union told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week that school choice could become “one of the most important civil rights issues” of the next decade.

Private schools can already receive public funding for some services, including busing and textbooks, that are extended to all students. (Many students who attend yeshivas in New York City ride buses paid for by the city.) But the broader pot of taxpayer funds goes to public schools and the students they educate, leaving families and religious groups to fund private schools.

Receiving additional state funding can be a double-edged sword for private schools. Some states require students whose education is subsidized by vouchers to take state exams, with consequences flowing to schools whose students fall short. That arrangement could be complicated for Orthodox advocates, who have fought against oversight of yeshivas in New York City.

In the Espinoza case, one Jewish group filed a brief supporting the original decision by the Montana Supreme Court.

The Montana Association of Rabbis argued that the scholarship program violated the Free Exercise clause by using taxpayer money to pay for religious education. The group also noted that the only religious schools in Montana were Christian, meaning that the program would effectively privilege Christianity over other religions.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. does anyone think that tuition at Yeshivas will go down now? Don’t be naive. I have never heard of a charitable organization that has enough money. They always need more.

    • State funding would get tricky because discrimination would not be allowed . Non Jews would need to be accepted , and yeshivas would not be able to expel students based on behavior outside class , like girls wearing pants , talking to boys etc .

      • They already have to do that offically. They advertise in remote papers that they accept all. The trick is that we have to accept all, however, the students need to be able to follow the hebrew studies. Since non jews cant follow hebrew studies its permitted. I am not sure its been tested though.

        If the liberals have the way our schools won’t be able to fire teachers who are LGBT. Big problem for the chinuch of our children. But I don’t think its a funding issue.

      • Jud. Schools already get some state money in most states, and cannot discriminate already. There just aren’t many people who want to send their kids to a religious school when they are not that religion.

        • Wrong, so what about Bais Yacov educated girls getting kicked out for out-of-school behaviors? That would not be permitted if the school were getting state funds. Yeshivas might gain funds, but lose autonomy.

  2. Now we see how important it was and is to vote for Trump. Had Hillary won like all the askunim from the ou and most chassidishe mosdis there would be a majority of liberal judges and NO support to yeshivas. All the Ratskunim opposes Trump. It was the normal good jews from Boro park,flatbush,monsey,queens who voted Trump and did not listen to the paid off democRATic operatives. Trump 2020

  3. No but if they receive funding yeshivas like in England lose their ability to not teach state designed subjects
    As per lazy he certainly is demanding that basic secular subjects are taught is states rights and you and I know that certain yeshivas don’t but still take funding.
    Sorry good try but your on wrong side of coin

  4. If liberals democRATs in control they want evolution and same gender marriage be thought whether they give you money or not. If conservatives in control there would non of this atheistic immoral subjects in schools.

    • Educated Boro Parker. If you were taught English in your Yeshiva you would know that it is spelled “taught” and not “thought”. Also you would use “none” instead of “non”.

  5. So all you Never Israel types have another excuse to live among the Goyim in Neb York…Look around and see how your Neb York is doing.

    Crime filled, dirty, over priced, rat infested and in general a hell hole.

    Unless you are a Lubavitcher with their Jerusalem at 770, there is no future for any Jew to remain in Neb York.

  6. This proves that conservatives live Judicial Activism.

    But the results will be good. Frum Jews will have to leave the Republican Party in order to enact the large tax increases needed to pay for this private school aid. Frum schools will finally have to teach real secular subjects including real science like evolution and the age of the universe. Jewish schools will have to accept non-Jewish students so our kids won’t be ghettoized any more. Teachers at frum schools will finally be able to form unions. And the extra funding will go entirely to pay raises to teachers who need raises desperately. If the vouchers are for $10,000 annually the tuition will rise by $10,000 annually.

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