Two Maine families had sued after the state said they could not use public tuition assistance to send their teens to Christian schools. The high court ruled in their favor, telling Maine it could not exclude religious institutions from the program because it was discriminatory, violating the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.
Despite its limited impact, the decision marks a victory for proponents of school privatization and school choice. Over the past year, they have successfully lobbied state lawmakers to create or expand programs that send taxpayer dollars to private schools. These come in a variety of forms and put taxpayers’ money directly into the hands of parents, who can choose the type of education they want for their children.
“This decision affirms that parents should be able to choose a school that is consistent with their values or that honors and respects their values,” Leslie Hiner, EdChoice’s vice president of legal affairs, said in a statement. “By excluding parents with certain values, discrimination is rampant.”
“Religious denominations are really critical to their success, as they have a proven track record in bringing up underprivileged children.”
Lawyers and lawyers say the case itself will have little immediate impact, but they fear the case signals that the court will continue to open the door for religious institutions, including schools, to access public funds.
“Overall, this is a deeply disappointing decision that further erodes the separation of church and state,” said Daniel Mach, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s freedom of speech program. religion and belief.
Supreme Court rules Maine cannot deny tuition assistance to religious schools
The decision follows a series of rulings that have favored religious institutions seeking public funding. Two decades ago, the court ruled that tuition voucher programs could be used to help students attend religious schools, in part because it was the parent, not the state, that made the decision to send them there.
Then, in 2017, the court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, which applied for a grant from the state of Missouri to repave its daycare playground. And last year, the court sided with parents in Montana who wanted to use the state’s tuition voucher program to send their children to Christian schools.
Public school advocates worry that funding for school choice programs will squeeze the budgets of traditional public schools.
“If that means that states will now be encouraged to implement voucher systems, that could be a challenge in the future, and the issue would of course be the price of voucher systems,” said Francisco Negron of the National Schools. boards. Association.
There are also concerns about whether civil rights laws that apply to public schools extend to private schools that receive public funding. In the case of Maine, for example, one of the Christian schools bans gay and transgender students and teachers, a practice that would violate federal law if adopted in a public school.
Lawyers predict that at some point the court will have to decide whether religious charter schools are permitted. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated, including by religious organizations that provide non-sectarian education during the day but offer religious programs after school.
Courts continue to debate whether charter schools are truly public schools and subject to the same civil rights laws, which would prevent the establishment of religious charter schools.
A recent decision addressed this issue: The United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit recently ruled that a charter school’s gender-based dress code, requiring girls to wear skirts, was unconstitutional – just as he would have been in a regular public school.
In the 2017 Trinity Lutheran case about religious schools getting public funding, Judge Sonia Sotomayor expressed concern that the majority was leading Americans “to a place where the separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment”. On Tuesday, in a solitary dissent, she wrote that now “the Court is leading us to a place where the separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.