Jun 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rules Maine violated Constitution by excluding religious schools in aid program

Picture of Supreme Court

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a state tuition aid program, saying that doing so violates the First Amendment.

The big picture: In a 6-3 opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Maine's program "operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise."

Catch up fast: The program allows parents who live in areas without public high schools to receive state assistance to cover tuition costs at public or private schools in other communities, as long as they are considered "nonsectarian."

  • In Carson v. Makin, the plaintiffs are two families who send or want to send their children to religious schools and challenged the program by arguing that it violated several portions of the Constitution.
  • The schools in the case, Temple Academy and Bangor Christian Schools, both focus on teaching a Christian philosophy to students.

Worth noting: In a brief submitted by the state of Maine, state Attorney General Aaron Frey wrote that both schools "candidly admit that they discriminate against homosexuals, individuals who are transgender, and non-Christians with respect to both who they admit as students and who they hire as teachers and staff."

What they're saying: In the court's opinion, Roberts called attention to a 2020 case in which the court ruled that states must allow religious schools to participate in programs that give scholarships to students attending private schools.

  • "'A State need not subsidize private education,' we concluded, '[b]ut once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,'" Roberts wrote, quoting from the 2020 opinion on the case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the majority "pays almost no attention" to the first clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making a law establishing a religion.

  • "[W]e are today a Nation of more than 330 million people who ascribe to over 100 different religions. In that context, state neutrality with respect to religion is particularly important. The Religion Clauses give Maine the right to honor that neutrality by choosing not to fund religious schools as part of its public school tuition program. I believe the majority is wrong to hold the contrary," Breyer said.
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