Press Release

New Mexico Court: Students can’t be barred because of faith New Mexico Court upholds neutrality towards religion

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Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

Additional Information

Washington, D.C.Students can’t be barred from receiving generally-available educational benefits just because their schools are religiously affiliated, according to a ruling issued Tuesday by the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

In a blow to anti-religious Blaine Amendments found in many State constitutions, Becket for Religious Liberty prevailed in defending a textbook lending program in New Mexico that is open to students in both public and private schools. The statue was challenged on the ground that it violates New Mexico’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits using state funds to support “sectarian, denominational, or private schools.” Blaine Amendments like New Mexico’s, which are found in many state constitutions, had their origins in anti-Catholicism and today are frequently used to discriminate against persons and institutions of faith.

“Today’s ruling allows state legislatures to focus on educating children, regardless of where they go to school,” said Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel at Becket, which along with New Mexico firm Modrall Sperling represented students and the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools in defending the law. “Religious freedom is protected, not threatened, when individuals of faith can participate in state programs on equal footing with everyone else.”

The Court’s ruling noted that the program was designed “to educate all children regardless of where they attend school” and that the textbooks were non-religious and used in a secular manner. Because the “legislature’s purpose” did “not focus on support of parochial or private schools,” the Court found that the Blaine Amendment did not prohibit any “indirect or incidental benefit” they did receive under the lending program.

Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it hasdefended clients of all faiths,including: Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include two major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 ruling in  Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”

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For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Melinda Skea, media@becketlaw.org, 202.349.7224.