On Monday, June 26, while the legal world was watching for decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and for a possible retirement announcement, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously affirmed the rejection of a challenge to Georgia’s Opportunity Scholarship program. That program allows businesses and individuals who contribute to not-for-profit school scholarship organizations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000 for individuals, $2,500 for married taxpayers, and the amount contributed or 75% of a corporation’s income tax liability, whichever is less. The organizations then distribute the donated funds to schools, some of which are religious, to pay tuition on behalf of eligible students. The program is very popular as its $56 million annual cap is quickly subscribed.
The program is also popular with the parents and children who are the beneficiaries of the scholarships and the related educational opportunity. Four parents, represented by the Institute of Justice with assistance from Strickland, Brockington Lewis LLP as local counsel, intervened to help the State defend the program. [Read More]
On May 4, President Trump signed a Religious Liberty Executive Order relaxing IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt organizations like churches from political speech and activities. The “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” Executive Order also directs “the Secretary of Health and Human Services” to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”
As the Supreme Court continues to fill its schedule for October Term 2016, one particularly important case has yet to be scheduled for argument. The petition for certiorari in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley was filed last November by a Lutheran church seeking to challenge a little-known provision of the Missouri state constitution that forbids state funds from going “directly or indirectly” to any “church, sect, or denomination of religion.” The Court granted certiorari in January, and although Trinity Lutheran has been fully briefed since mid-August, the case remains in limbo. Whatever the reason for the delay, the decision is likely to reveal a great deal about the court’s trajectory in church-state relations cases well beyond this Term. [Read More]
In my first blog post discussing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ new report on conflicts between nondiscrimination norms and religious liberty, I briefly discussed the roots of this conflict. I also noted that the Commission’s progressive majority (the Commission has a total of eight members, six of whom are progressives and two of whom are conservatives) have resoundingly resolved this conflict in favor of nondiscrimination. [Read More]