The Supreme Court is skeptical about the exclusion of public funds for religious education

A family looks at the US Supreme Court building as rulings are scheduled to be announced today in Washington, DC, US June 25, 2021.

Ken Cedeno | Reuters

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Wednesday appeared poised to expand public funding for religious education as they questioned whether a state program discriminates on the basis of religious beliefs. teacher or not.

Nine judges heard oral arguments in Carson and Makin, a case centered on Maine’s rule banning the use of the tuition assistance program for “denominational” religious content schools.

Two Christian families are challenging that requirement, arguing it is an unconstitutional form of religious discrimination. They want Maine’s tuition program to cover sending their children to schools that teach biblical education and discriminate against gays and other groups.

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The Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether the non-denominational provision of Maine’s tuition program violated the Constitution.

Samuel Alito, one of six justices appointed to the Supreme Court by the Republican president, pressed Maine’s attorneys over whether the tuition program discriminates against certain religious beliefs. .

“You’re discriminating between religions based on their beliefs, aren’t you?” Alito asked after positing a hypothesis about the religious activities of the two schools.

“It’s the beliefs of the two religions that determine whether their schools receive the money. And we’ve said that’s the most fundamental violation of the First Amendment’s religious provisions, to the government makes distinctions between religions based on their doctrines,” Alito said.

Maine’s attorney replied that only schools that inculcate religion in their classrooms would be excluded from the tuition program.

Brett Kavanaugh, one of three judges nominated by the former President Donald Trump, was asked whether the state discriminates against religion by prioritizing secular education over sectarian schools.

“when it says you can use [the public funds] for a private school that is secular but not Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim [school] … you say it’s okay,” Kavanaugh said.

“What we’re trying to achieve are schools that are religiously neutral,” replied Maine’s attorney. “What we want is religious neutrality.”

The latest clash over the separation of church and state comes after 2020 Judgment Between Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue, when the court held April 5 that a Montana scholarship program to fund religious schools is protected by the Constitution.

If a state decides to offer programs that subsidize private education, “it cannot disqualify certain private schools just because they are religious,” wrote Roberts for the majority opinion in that case.

In Carson, Maine argues that an important difference is whether schools provide an education based on religion, rather than simply being a religious school imbued with religious teachings. faction.

“Excluding denominational schools, Maine is refusing to fund religious activity inconsistent with a free public education,” state attorneys general told the high court.

An attorney for the families told the judges on Wednesday that regardless of the exclusion based on a school’s religious status or religious teachings, “It is discrimination based on religion and in a way it’s unconstitutional.”

Some rural areas of Maine do not have public high schools. The tuition assistance program allows public funds to be used for students to attend certain private schools, some of which are out of state.

“States must not withhold another pre-existing educational benefit simply because a student would make a private and independent choice to use that benefit to purchase an education that includes instruction.” religion”, attorney for Christian families Discuss in their attempt to get the high court to hear the case.

The lower courts sided with Maine. “There is no doubt that Maine can ensure that such a public education is a secular one,” a federal appeals court wrote in an October 2020 opinion. The Supreme Court is skeptical about the exclusion of public funds for religious education


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