This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of the City Journal.
On June 30, the United States Supreme Court, in a five-to-four ruling, held that the First Amendment’s Free-Exercise Clause prohibits the government from excluding faith-based schools from school-choice programs. The decision, Espinoza v. Montana, is momentous. Supporters of faith-based institutions, and especially Catholic schools, have long fought for the principle, endorsed by Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion, that preventing such schools from accessing public resources because they are religious is unjust, born of bigotry, and ought to end. That battle, undertaken as early as the 1850s by Catholic bishops—most notably, the fiery archbishop of New York, “Dagger” John Hughes—is now over. But whether the court victory comes in time to help secure the future of urban Catholic schools is another question. Even before Covid-19 shutdowns hit their finances, many were struggling—and a big reason was the emergence of charter schools.