HELENA, Mont. — The Latest on a lawsuit over a ban on tax credits for religious schools (all times local):
Montana government officials and public education advocates are urging the state Supreme Court to reinstate a ban on tax credits for donations that go toward scholarships for religious school students.
Department of Revenue attorney Dan Whyte told the justices Friday during oral arguments that the ban does not interfere with anyone’s right to attend private religious schools.
But he says the tax credit program violates a provision in the Montana Constitution that forbids indirect state spending for any religious purposes.
He says that’s because tax credits are public funds.
Attorneys for three parents asked the high court to uphold a Kalispell judge’s previous ruling striking down the ban.
They say the ban is discriminatory, that the tax credits are not public funds and that they benefit the students, not the schools.
The court did not make an immediate ruling.
The Montana Supreme Court will consider whether a tax credit program discriminates against religious schools.
The Republican-led Legislature in 2015 approved the program as an alternative to a school voucher program.
It gives individuals up to $150 in tax credits for donations made to scholarship programs for private schools or innovative educational programs in public schools.
But the state Department of Revenue said private religious schools could not participate because the Montana Constitution strictly prohibits aid to religious schools.
Three parents whose children go to Christian schools sued. A Kalispell judge last year struck down the revenue department’s religious school exclusion.
The department appealed to the high court in a case that has drawn national attention.
The Supreme Court hears arguments Friday in Missoula.