WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a program Which provides tuition assistance for private education, a decision that could ease religious organizations’ access to taxpayer money.
6-3 Results could lead to renewed push for school choice programs In some of the 18 states that have so far not directed taxpayer money to private, religious education. Beyond Maine the most immediate impact of the court’s decision will probably be felt next door in Vermont, which has a similar program.
The decision is the latest in a line of Supreme Court rulings that have upheld claims of religion-based discrimination. The court is separately weighing the case of a football coach who says he has a First Amendment right to pray In midfield immediately after the game.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the conservative majority that the Maine program violates the Constitution’s protections for religious freedom.
Maine’s ‘non-denominational’ requirement for otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Regardless of how benefits and restrictions are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools based on their religious practice,” Roberts wrote.
The court’s three liberal judges disagreed. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “This Court continues to break down the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers had fought to forge.”
Justice Stephen Breyer said in a separate dissent that Maine “seeks to provide a secular, public education to children within the state. This will, in significant part, constitutionally spend public money to support the education and practice of the religion.” embodies the constitutional requirement to refrain from doing so.”
But Roberts wrote that states are not obliged to subsidize private education. Once they do, they cannot cut out religious schools, he wrote, reiterating his opinion on a similar case two years ago. “Maine opted to allow some parents to direct in-state tuition payments to private schools; That decision was not ‘coerced’, Roberts wrote, quoting Sotomayor’s dissent.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said during a radio appearance on Tuesday that he was not surprised by the court’s decision, but felt it was not in line with his reading of the Constitution.
Frey also said the court’s decision would require a re-evaluation of how it applies to state law.
So far, the boycott of Maine’s religious schools has been upheld, Frey said during an appearance on Maine Public. “Literally, it’s relatable, even though we saw it coming.”
The ideological divide in Tuesday’s ruling was also evident during arguments in December, when conservative justice seemed largely unheard of by Maine’s position that the state was willing to pay for the rough equivalent of public education, but not religious leanings.
In largely rural Maine, the state allows families who live in cities that do not have public schools to receive public tuition dollars to send their children to a public or private school of their choice. Religious schools have been excluded from the program.
Students who live in a district with public schools or in a district that has contracted with another public system are ineligible for the teaching program.
Parents who challenged the program argued that boycotting religious schools violated their religious rights under the Constitution. Teachers’ unions and school boards said states can put limits on public funding for private education without violating religious freedom.
Michael Bindass, an attorney for the Libertarian Justice Institute who argued for parenthood in the High Court, said the court clarified Tuesday that “there is no basis for the belief that the government is capable of excluding and excluding religious alternatives.” “
Rachel Ledger, president and CEO of the American United for Separation of Church and State, called on the court to “force taxpayers to fund religious education” and to hide “this attack on our Constitution in non-discriminatory language”. sharply criticized.
In the Maine case, parents sued in federal court to be able to use state aid to send their children to Christian schools in Bangor and Waterville. According to court filings, the schools in question, Bangor Christian School and Temple Academy, are unsure whether they will accept public funding.
Bangor School said it would not hire teachers or admit students who are transgender. According to court records, both schools said they do not hire gay or lesbian teachers.
In 2020, the High Court ruled 5-4 that states must provide religious schools with the same access to public funding that other private schools receive, preserving a Montana scholarship program that allowed religious institutions The students were benefitted in a big way.
In that case, the court held that states should not allow public money to be used in private education. But they cannot exclude religious schools from such programs once created.
But even after that ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Maine program, holding that the state was not violating anyone’s constitutional rights by refusing to allow taxpayer money to be used for religious instruction. was. The three-judge panel included retired Justice David Souter, who occasionally hears cases in the Court of Appeals.
Most of the judges attended religious schools, and many sent or sent their children to them.