All students in New Mexico will have equal access to educational resources after the state Supreme Court struck down a textbook lending program’s refusal of service to religious schools.
The non-profit legal group Becket noted the ruling followed the precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court decision Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which determined religious schools could cannot be made second-class citizens in state programs.
Moses v. Ruszkowski was brought against New Mexico to end the denial of state-approved textbooks and other materials if students attended a school with a religious affiliation.
WND reported a year ago that the state court was re-evaluating the case after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.
The New Mexico Supreme Court earlier held that the state’s Instructional Materials Law was subject to the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment. The amendment provides that no funds “appropriated, levied or collected for educational purposes, shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school.”
Such amendments are common and date to the 19th century when states feared that immigrant Catholics would surge in population. The laws remain in some states.
But the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in the Trinity Lutheran case that states cannot arbitrarily exclude religious schools from programs for the public benefit.
Explained Becket, which fought the New Mexico restriction: “New Mexico is ranked lowest of all 50 states in terms of education. The textbook lending program seeks to lift the state’s literacy levels by ensuring that all children have equal access to quality textbooks. The program especially benefits low-income and minority students living in rural areas.”
The program previously had been open to all, but it was closed to some students when activists in 2012 sued. They argued that students and religiously affiliated schools must be deprived of access.
“In shutting the book on religious discrimination, the New Mexico Supreme Court has opened access to quality textbooks for all students,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which is defending the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools and the state’s textbook program. “All kids deserve an education free from discrimination.”
“New Mexico’s kids are better off today because the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected 19th Century religious discrimination,” said John Foreman, state director of the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools.
Both the trial court and the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the textbook lending program. But in 2015 the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional based on the Blaine Amendment. In 2017, Becket appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following a 7-2 ruling in Trinity Lutheran, a similar case involving Missouri’s Blaine Amendment, the Supreme Court ordered the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the textbook lending program.