Monday 8th August 2022

Supreme Court rules Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from tuition-assistance programs is unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that State programs that provide money for public school tuition cannot exclude schools that offer religious instruction. The 6-3 Supreme Court decision fell along partisan lines, with the three liberal judges dissenting.

The case itself centered on a pair of schools in Maine, Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy, which has limited that state’s tuition assistance payments to “nonsectarian” schools since 1981. Petitioners were seeking tuition assistance to send their children to either school, however neither school qualifies as “nonsectarian,” making them ineligible for Maine’s tuition assistance payments. Both institutions are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which is another requirement to receive funding.

Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett: “The question presented is whether this restriction violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent: “Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic anti-establishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens. With growing concern for where this Court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.”

Editorial credit: Mehdi Kasumov / Shutterstock.com

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