As mostly white left-wing activists wreaked ongoing havoc on minority neighborhoods, the country barely noticed a landmark civil rights victory in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The ruling, on the magnitude of Brown v. Board of Education, liberates all children to benefit from schools traditionally available only to the rich.
The 5-4 majority decision in Espinoza v. Montana effectively neuters Blaine amendments in Colorado and 36 other states. The laws were encouraged by the Ku Klux Klan to prevent sectarian schools from educating immigrants and minorities. Teachers unions have fought to preserve Blaine Amendments because they uphold a public school education monopoly, ensuring children from middle- and low-income families have no options other than traditional public attendance centers.
Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities make up a disproportionate number of students lacking freedom from the teachers unions and Blaine Amendments. It puts them at risk of generational poverty and other lifelong pitfalls of inferior educations.
Kendra Espinoza was homeschooling her two daughters when her husband abandoned them. A bank foreclosed on the home. Espinoza found a full-time job earning meager wages and put the girls in a public school.
The daughter Naomi did not fit in. Her Christian faith incited bullies. Sarah struggled in her classes. The school allowed widespread use of profanity, and the girls weren’t learning at the speed Kendra expected.
Desperate for change, Espinoza enrolled them in Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Mont. She took work cleaning houses at nights and on weekends. Naomi mowed lawns to raise money for tuition.
The school was what the girls needed. The bullying stopped. Faculty forbade profanity. The girls’ grades and emotional stability improved. Despite financial aid from the school, the tuition suffocated the family’s finances.
Hope emerged when the Montana Legislature established a means of tuition assistance for low-income families seeking better schools. The program would grant a small tax credit to people who donate to private organizations that provide tuition scholarships.
The Montana Department of Revenue intervened with support from the national and Montana teachers unions. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the program, citing the state’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits state aid to a school controlled by a “church, sect, or denomination.”
Aside from the law’s obvious anti-religion bias, in violation of the First Amendment, the state court’s decision problematically views voluntary donations as money belonging to the state. The U.S. Supreme Court balked at that.
The Colorado Supreme Court issued a near-identical ruling in 2015 against a scholarship program to help children in the Douglas County School District.
The Gazette’s editorial board has said for years that Blaine Amendments flout the First and 14th amendments’ prohibition of government’s interfering in the free exercise of religion. Governments must remain neutral in regard to religious content, neither favoring nor disfavoring it.
The court’s majority said exactly that, in a ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
A state “cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts said.
To support the ruling, Roberts cited a mountain of precedence, including Everson v. Board of Education’s declaration in 1947 that a state “cannot exclude individual Catholics, Lutherans, Mohammedans, Baptists, Jews, Methodists, Nonbelievers, Presbyterians, or the members of any other faith, because of their faith, or lack of it, from receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation.” That ruling upheld the rights of children to ride public school buses to sectarian schools.
The more recent ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (2017) said Missouri could no longer withhold state subsidies for playground resurfacing because of a school’s religious affiliation.
Because of the Missouri ruling, the Supreme Court remanded an appeal to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in the Douglas County case. Before the court could reconsider, new board members in Douglas County — teachers union loyalists opposed to opportunities for low-income children — withdrew the case.
Children’s futures matter, whether they are Black, brown, white, rich, poor, or people of faith. This country has struggled for nearly 250 years to enhance opportunities for all. Meanwhile, the teachers unions — locally and nationally — have fought to uphold state laws encouraged by the Ku Klux Klan to discriminate against the poor on a basis of faith.
With Tuesday’s ruling, politicians and education leaders who care about kids should enact scholarship programs that make all accredited schools available to families in all circumstances. With this ruling, the last desperate remnant of school segregation should come crashing down.
The Gazette Editorial Board