The U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the separation of church and state in a major ruling on Tuesday by endorsing Montana tax credits that helped pay for students to attend religious schools, a decision paving the way for more public funding of faith-based institutions.
In a 5-4 decision, the court backed a Montana program that gave tax incentives for people to donate to a scholarship fund that provided money to Christian schools for student tuition expenses. The justices sided with three mothers of Christian school students who appealed after Montana's top court invalidated the tax credit for violating the state constitution's ban on public aid to churches and religious entities.
The court's five conservatives were in the majority and the four liberal justices dissented.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the ruling said, "A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious."
The justices said that voiding a taxpayer program merely because it can be used to fund religious entities violated the U.S. Constitution's protection for the free exercise of religion. The ruling represented the latest expansion of religious liberties under the Supreme Court, a priority of its conservative majority in recent years.
President Donald Trump's administration supported the plaintiffs in the case. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a prominent supporter of such "school choice" plans. Christian conservatives are an important voter bloc for Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.
Thirty-eight states have constitutional provisions like Montana's barring public aid to religious entities. Opponents have said these provisions were the product of anti-Catholic bias and resulted in impermissible discrimination against religion.