September 11, 2020

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

In 2015, the Montana legislature enacted a program that provided a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for taxpayers who made a donation to a Student Scholarship Organization. This means that a Montana resident could make a donation to a scholar organization, and in turn, would receive a tax credit for the amount of the donation. The Student Scholarship Organization used the donated money to provide scholarships to students to attend private schools, including private schools affiliated with a religion.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program violated a state constitutional provision, banning the use of public funds to support religious activities, called the “No-Aid” Clause. The court stopped the program, and this appeal followed.

The petitioners in this case argue that the Montana Supreme Court ruling violates the Religion Clauses in the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. They claim that the court’s ruling discriminates against religion in violation of the Free Exercise Clause, that it discriminates against religion in violation of the Establishment Clause, and that it is based on discriminatory motivations against religion in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Issue before the Court:

Did the Montana Supreme Court violate the Constitution when it struck down a state program that offered Montanans dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations to private schools, including religious schools, for the purpose of paying student tuition?

Classroom Case Study

This classroom case study provides:

  • background on the legal issues in the case;
  • facts of the case;
  • key legal definitions;
  • argument summaries for the petitioner and respondent; and
  • focus questions for fostering classroom discussion

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The classroom case study was modified from PREVIEW of United States Supreme Court Cases. It can be used for teacher reference and provides a more detailed look at the case.

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