This week is National School Choice Week. And coincidentally, just last week the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a key school choice case with significant religious liberty concerns. The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, involves a scholarship program that provides a tax credit to those who contribute to private, not-for-profit scholarship organizations. When some families sought to apply the scholarship funds towards tuition at private, religious schools, the Montana Department of Revenue issued a rule excluding religious schools from the program pursuant to Montana’s “Blaine Amendment.” A Blaine Amendment is a constitutional provision many states added to their constitutions in the late 1800’s in a transparently anti-Catholic effort to ensure that Catholic schools never received state funds.
The constitutionality of Blaine Amendments was most recently called into question in 2017 when the United States Supreme Court held in Trinity Lutheran of Columbia v. Pauley, that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not allow states to target or exclude institutions based on their “religious status.” In short, if states make funds or some other benefit generally available to private organizations, they can’t categorically exclude religious organizations. The Court called “laws that target the religious for ‘special disabilities’ based on their ‘religious status’…odious to our Constitution.”
If the Supreme Court decides the Espinoza case according to its holding in Trinity Lutheran, states could begin enacting a whole host of school-choice initiatives and free parents up to direct funds to the private schools of their choosing, including religious schools. This in turn could make religious schools a more affordable option for parents and lead to significant growth in the number and size of religious schools. We could be on the verge of a boom in private, religiously affiliated education options in states across the country.
But with each new school that is founded or expanded to meet the growing demand, there will be significant land use issues. Where will new schools be allowed to locate? Can a municipality treat public schools better than private religious schools? How much will municipalities allow existing schools to expand to accommodate more students?
At Dalton & Tomich, we have already seen a significant increase in the number of religious land use cases was have had to file on behalf of religious schools which have been denied the land use approvals they need to locate, operate, or expand in a community. Far too many school leaders are completely unaware of the substantial protections religious schools are afforded under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq. (RLUIPA). This is exactly why we have written a guide to help religious schools better understand and assert their rights.
If your religious school is seeking to expand its campus or add on to existing structures and you are facing opposition from the local planning commission, city council or other local governing body, you aren’t out of options. RLUIPA protects religious organizations against discrimination in land use and zoning matters.
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Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.
In 2015, Hope Rising Community Church experienced extreme opposition, the kind that would force it to close its doors and leave behind the families and youth it was so passionate about reaching. As the lead pastor I felt helpless, inferior and as if I had no […]Read More
Dalton & Tomich’s assistance in our RLUIPA matter has paved the way for our church to continue serving the community and for new churches in the area to thrive in the future. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your stand for religious […]Read More
The Urban Church will be forever grateful to Dalton & Tomich plc for navigating it through a difficult land use issue. Let them give you honest and caring advice because that’s exactly what they’ll do.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC defended a complicated case at a church we insure. Not only is the firm professional, they understand how church business runs and work well within church leadership.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC helped us immensely in the areas of litigation and negotiation! Their professionalism and understanding of church policy helped our church be victorious in a modern day religious land use battle. RLUIPA Religious Land Use Case: Lighthouse Community Church of GodRead More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC serves as General Counsel for the 144 churches within the Church of God in Michigan. The firm provides the legal expertise we need in dealing with the issues that arise during the course of fulfilling our ministry.Read More
I met Dan Dalton during a dark time for our church. He was recommended as the leading RLUIPA attorney in the nation. He demonstrated wisdom, expertise, a gentle nature, a calming inter-relational skill, genuineness, and a humble demeanor, while at the same time, being sharp, […]Read More
Mr. Dalton’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. His personal interest in helping our church went “above and beyond” just the call of duty. His understanding of both legal and spiritual matters seems to uniquely […]Read More