Press Release

After Trinity Lutheran, New Mexico kids renew plea for education resources State Supreme Court to decide if all students get equal access to textbook lending program

Media Contact

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

Additional Information

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO –  A group of New Mexico school students today asked the state Supreme Court for equal access to state education services. In Moses v. Ruszkowski, activists sued to end an 80-year-old textbook lending program that gives all students equal access to state-approved textbooks and other learning materials. In 2015, the state Supreme Court banned students at nonpublic schools from participating in the program. But the U.S. Supreme Court, following its decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer last June, sent the case back to New Mexico’s high court for reconsideration.

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 thousands of low-income and minority students living in rural areas with limited educational opportunities. But in 2012 activists sued the state arguing that the textbook lending program violates the state constitution because students at religiously affiliated schools can participate on equal footing with all other students.

“We should be investing in kids’ futures, not crippling their ability to gain a quality education,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which is defending the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools (NMANS) and the state’s textbook program. “Ending the textbook lending program will disproportionately hurt low-income and minority children, at a time when they need access to a quality education more than ever.”

The lawsuit relies on a discriminatory 19th century state law—called a Blaine Amendment—that was originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens. Now, in New Mexico and across the country, Blaine Amendments have been used to keep religious organizations from participating in neutral, generally applicable government programs on the same terms as everyone else. For example, activists have used Blaine Amendments try stopping children with disabilities from attending schools that best meet their needs, preventing schools from making their playgrounds safer, to stopping food kitchens from helping the poor, and closing service providers that help former prisoners successfully re-integrate into society.

Both the trial court and the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the textbook lending program, but in 2015 the New Mexico Supreme Court, based on the Blaine Amendment, ruled that the program was unconstitutional. 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, that Court ordered the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the textbook lending program.

“A science textbook is a science textbook no matter whose shelf it’s on,” said Baxter. “It’s time to stop discriminating and give all kids equal access to the best educational opportunities.”

A decision is expected in the case sometime late 2018.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).