Judgment 6 to 3 is the latest in a series of Supreme Court decisions in recent years about expanding religious rights.
The United States Supreme Court has allowed more public funding for religious institutions, rulings in favor of two Christian families challenged a tuition assistance program in Maine that excludes private schools from promoting religion.
In a six-to-three decision, the judges overturned on Tuesday, a lower court ruling that rejected the families’ claims that religious discrimination violated the U.S. Constitution. States, including the First Amendment, protect the free exercise of religion.
This is the latest in a series decision in recent years expanded religious rights.
The court’s conservative judges made up the majority of the ruling, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, with dissenting liberal members.
The decision builds on a 2020 Supreme Court ruling in a case from Montana, paving the way for more tax dollars to flow into religious schools.
Maine provides public funds to pay tuition at private high school choice of a family in some sparsely populated areas of the northeastern state lacking public high schools.
Schools that receive this tuition assistance programmatically must be “non-denominational” and are excluded if they promote a particular religion and present material “through the lens of that faith.”
The ruling gives the latest example of Supreme Court, with an increasingly assertive conservative majority, making the expansion of religious freedom a priority. The judges accepted the plaintiffs’ claims – often conservative Catholics – about government hostility towards religion including in educational contexts.
The Maine case – titled Carson v Makin – examined two different terms of First Amendment: one provision prohibits the government from establishing a religion and another guarantees the free exercise of religion.
“Maine has chosen to provide tuition assistance that parents can direct to the public or private schools of their choice,” wrote Roberts.
“The administration of such benefit by Maine is subject to free exercise principles governing any public interest program—including the prohibition of denying benefits based on the recipient’s religious practice. .”
As for me, Justice is free Sonia Sotomayor argued in a dissenting opinion that the highest court had “for decades understood the Articles of Incorporation to prohibit government funding of religious activity”.
“Ultimately, the Court’s decision is particularly erroneous in the interest of which is the public education to which all children of Maine are entitled under the State Constitution,” Sotomayor wrote.
“As this Court has long recognized, the Articles of Incorporation require that public education be secular and religiously neutral.”
In a separate dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer – who will retire at the end of the court’s current term – said Maine has the right to withhold funding from schools that promote religion.
“Maine has promised all children in the State the right to a free public education. To fulfill this promise, Maine has strived to provide children with the religiously neutral education needed in public school systems,” Breyer wrote.
“And that, in large part, reflects the State’s anti-establishment interest in avoiding spending public money to support intrinsically religious activism. The Articles of Religion give Maine the ability and flexibility to make this choice. “