The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Justice Programs released guidelines for awarding grants to religious groups.
The new guidance is based on the U.S. Supreme Court case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.
The case involved tax credits for donations in Montana. People who donate to certain organizations that award scholarships to selected students who attend private schools can receive a tax credit, but the state barred the benefit for religious schools. Three residents tried to use the benefit for a religious school, and the state said no. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in the state’s favor, citing the state constitution’s “no-aid” provision that bars any aid to a school controlled by a church, sect, or denomination.
The Supreme Court ruled that the “no-aid” provision violates the Free Exercise Clause, which protects “religious observers against unequal treatment” and “against laws that impose special disabilities on the cases of religious status.”
The Office of Justice Program’s guidance states that faith-based organizations have a right to equal participation in DOJ programs.
No grant document, agreement, covenant, memorandum of understanding, policy, or regulation that is used by the Department or a State or local government in administering financial assistance from the Department shall disqualify faith-based organizations from participating in the Department’s programs because such organizations are motivated or influenced by religious faith to provide social services, or because of their religious character or affiliation. And neither the Department nor any State or local government receiving funds under any Department program shall, in the selection of service providers, discriminate for or against an organization on the basis of the organization’s religious character or affiliation, or lack thereof.
Faith-based organizations that apply for or participate in programs and services retain their independence from federal, state, and local governments. They may continue to carry out their missions and express their beliefs.