New Supreme Court Ruling Decimates Church-State Separation

Paul Fidalgo

In a 5–4 ruling on the morning of June 30, 2020, the Supreme Court did incalculable damage to the separation of church and state in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The decision forces American taxpayers to pay for religious indoctrination, gutting the protections in both the United States Constitution and in No Aid Provisions of three-quarters of state constitutions that forbid the use of taxpayer dollars for religious purposes.

In 2015, Montana enacted a tax credit voucher program whereby taxpayers received a credit for donating money to student scholarship organizations, which would fund scholarships for students attending private schools. As the overwhelming majority of private schools in Montana (and across the country) are religious, and the Montana Constitution, Article X, Section 6, specifically bans the use of tax dollars for religious education, the Montana Department of Revenue adopted Rule 1, stating that the vouchers could not be used to pay for religious education provided by religious schools. Parents at religious schools sued. 

The Montana Supreme Court in 2018 found that such support for religious schools would violate the Montana Constitution and struck down the entire program, preventing the vouchers being used at any private school—religious or not. Even though the program no longer exists, the Supreme Court nonetheless agreed to review the ruling.

Let’s be clear about what just happened: The Supreme Court has decided that atheist taxpayers are now required to fund religious schools,” said Robyn E. Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Members of non-Christian faiths are now required to fund Christian education. The religious Right has gotten exactly what it wanted from Trump’s justices: the erasure of a fundamental principle of American law, that no person shall be forced to participate in religious expression by subsidizing religious education.”

This ruling sets us on a dark, theocratic path. The Founders made clear that the public purse must not fund religious activities, especially education. Now, with this ruling, it not only can fund them, but it is compelled to. 

The Court has been opening a hole up in Thomas Jefferson’s Wall of Separation between church and state. Now they’ve built a two-lane highway through that hole, inviting churches to raid the public treasury and drive gleefully away with taxpayer money.

Paul Fidalgo

Paul Fidalgo has been communications director of the Center for Inquiry since 2012. He holds a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University, and has worked previously for FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy and the Secular Coalition for America. Paul is also an actor and musician whose work includes five years performing with the American Shakespeare Center, and he currently directs productions for the University of New England Players. In 2017 he was the second Richard Kirschman Free Thought Fellow at the Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California. His work also appears in the 13th book of the Dark Mountain Project. He lives in Maine along with his two dangerous kids. His personal blog is Near-Earth Object, and he tweets at @paulfidalgo.


In a 5–4 ruling on the morning of June 30, 2020, the Supreme Court did incalculable damage to the separation of church and state in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The decision forces American taxpayers to pay for religious indoctrination, gutting the protections in both the United States Constitution and in No …

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