Press Release

PRESS RELEASE: Defense of Freedom Institute Joins Court Battle for Education Freedom for Michigan Families

Petitions United States Supreme Court to hear ‘Hile v. Michigan’ and overturn state’s Blaine amendment

WASHINGTON—Today, the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies (DFI) joined the legal battle to overturn Michigan’s (purportedly) “neutral” Blaine amendment, which is discriminatory in effect, and fight for education and religious freedom for families in the state.

In Hile v. Michigan, five Michigan families who would like to obtain public assistance for their children’s K-12 private, religious school tuition have sued the state. They argue that the no-aid clause in Michigan’s constitution, which prevents public funds from being used for private school tuition, disadvantages religious families and schools. A federal district court rejected their claim, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.

In an amicus brief petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, DFI argues Michigan’s selective application of the “no-aid clause” in the state constitution discriminates against religious parents and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

While Michigan’s constitution bans public funds from “directly or indirectly” “aid[ing] or maintain[ing] any private, nondenominational, or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school,” the state doesn’t enforce that prohibition in all instances. 

For example, private schools can receive state money to pay for auxiliary services provided by private vendors and can receive reimbursements from the state for costs associated with adherence to health and safety mandates, record maintenance rules, playground equipment safety standards, child immunization requirements, and even bus driver safety education.

“Michigan’s no-aid clauses, therefore, are far from neutral in practice,” the brief states. “They fully prohibit aid to only one type of beneficiary: parents.” 

DFI also argues in the brief that Michigan’s selective enforcement of its no-aid clause harms students by preventing their access to a high-quality education. “Studies of choice programs throughout the United States overwhelmingly reflect a common conclusion: choice leads to measurable educational benefits for many students,” states the brief. “Efforts to stymie parent choice therefore cause serious harm.”

To date, seventeen studies have assessed the effects on student scores in eight school choice programs—three voucher programs and five privately-funded scholarship programs. Out of those studies, eleven found choice improves student outcomes and four found no effect.

“With the Supreme Court having made clear in recent cases that the First Amendment doesn’t allow states to favor secular private schools over religious ones, so-called ’neutral’ Blaine Amendments like Michigan’s are the next line of defense for school choice opponents,” said Don Daugherty, DFI’s senior counsel. “The Supreme Court should grant the families’ petition and instruct lower courts to look beyond the face of these pernicious constitutional provisions to their actual, discriminatory effect.”

To read the amicus brief, click here.