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Supreme Court Maine ruling on funding for religious schools could tamp down the culture wars

Supreme Court Maine ruling on funding for religious schools could tamp down the culture wars

Supreme Court Maine ruling on funding for religious schools could tamp down the culture wars.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down a Maine law that excluded most religious private schools from a voucher program that is in place in similar secular schools. The 6-3 decision in Carson v. Makin is an important victory for the constitutional principle that government may not discriminate on the basis of religion. It may also help open up valuable opportunities for parents and students, particularly the disadvantaged.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a state-run voucher program may not exclude religious schools simply because of their “status” as religious institutions. As Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated in his opinion for the court Tuesday, a state may not “withhold otherwise available public benefits from religious organizations” simply because they are religious.

In his dissenting opinion, Breyer argues that the majority opinion in Carson might promote “religious strife.” But it can actually reduce such conflict.

Roberts also noted that discrimination on the basis of religion presumptively violates the clause protecting the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, and can only pass judicial scrutiny — i.e. be deemed constitutional — if it ad­vances “interests of the highest order” and is “narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests.” For example, it would surely be unconstitutional for a state to give welfare benefits to Christians while denying them to otherwise eligible secularists. While the state can choose not to establish welfare programs in the first place, if it does establish them, the beneficiaries can’t be discriminated against based on religion. The same logic applies to tuition vouchers. 

Until now, the state of Maine has subsidized the cost of private schools providing the equivalent of a secular public school curriculum for the roughly 5,000 children who live in districts (school administrative units, in Maine parlance) too sparsely populated to support their own public school. However, Maine refuses to subsidize attendance at private schools with a religious curriculum in these areas, even if they have otherwise met all applicable state laws.

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/supreme-court-maine-ruling-funding-religious-schools-tamp-culture-wars-rcna34547


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