The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a Montana program that excluded religious schools from a student aid initiative violates religious freedoms protected under the U.S. Constitution.
The 5-4 majority decision, which fell along ideological lines, said that by making state-backed private school scholarships off-limits to parochial schools, the program ran afoul of First Amendment protections for the free exercise of religion, which prohibits the government from treating religious and secular groups differently.
“A state need not subsidize private education,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
In a concurring opinion, Thomas argued that the court’s current treatment of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which functions as a sort of counterweight to the free exercise clause, unduly interferes with states’ ability to support religious activities.
“So long as this hostility remains, fostered by our distorted understanding of the Establishment Clause, free exercise rights will continue to suffer,” Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, wrote.