Supreme Court Discusses Religious Rights in Education and Public Funding

Supreme Court Discusses Religious Rights in Education and Public Funding

( – On December 8, the Supreme Court seemed ready to rule a state program in Maine designed to reimburse families for private education can’t exclude religious schools.

The state argued people couldn’t use the Maine program for religious education because of the separation of church and state. The state said it would pay for an equivalent public education program as long as there were no religious attachments.

The general interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is to keep church and state separate. In fact, ever since Thomas Jefferson suggested creating a “wall of separation” between the two, Americans and the courts often use the phrasing. Over the years, there have been many challenges to the clause with the integration of various religions across the country, but the sentiment generally holds.

Department of Education vs. Maine Families

Since there are few or no educational choices for children in some parts of rural Maine, the state’s Department of Education has a rule allowing families to send their kids to their choice of a public or private school with tuition reimbursement. However, the program specifically excludes religious schools. The families who wanted to choose Christian schools in Waterville and Bangor sued, and the case made it to the Supreme Court in July. They allege the Maine rule infringes upon their Constitutional rights. The lead attorney in the case, Michael Bindas, believes SCOTUS will agree. It appears he may be right.

While the three left-leaning judges on the court seem to agree with Maine, at least some of the conservative judges hearing the case believe the exclusion discriminates against religious families. According to court records, the school in Bangor already discriminates by refusing to hire teachers or accept transgender students. Neither school allows gay or lesbian educators to teach their attendees.

Applying the Rule Everywhere

Justice Elena Kagan hypothetically asked if the program would include a white supremacist school. Maine’s chief deputy attorney general, Christopher Taub, said the program would not include such a school. When asked about a school promoting critical race theory (CRT), Taub admitted he was unclear what teaching CRT meant. Taub followed by asking the court why the state had to “subsidize a right.”

The attorney general further argued if the government can give funding for family planning services as long as there is no discussion about abortion, Maine should be able to put other conditions on child tuition reimbursements.

Although the conservative court seems to be leaning toward requiring the state to reimburse families for sending their children to religious schools, they expect to issue a final ruling by June 2022.

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