HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief with the Montana Supreme Court in support of three families that sued when the state excluded students at faith-based schools from a scholarship program funded by donations that can be offset by state tax credits.

The brief, filed Thursday, argues excluding such students from receiving scholarships through the Montana School Choice program discriminates against them based on their religious beliefs.

In writing rules for the program, created in 2015, the Department of Revenue said faith-based schools could not be considered "qualified education providers" and the state constitution does not allow appropriations to such schools.

District Judge Heidi Ulbricht ruled in May that the program is funded through tax credits, not appropriations.

The state appealed Ulbricht's decision to the Montana Supreme Court.