Supreme Court pushes back against religious discrimination

Supreme Court pushes back against religious discrimination

Supreme Court pushes back against religious discrimination

A 6-3 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court is being described as a victory for both families and religious liberty, even as the public waits for the high court to release its Dobbs ruling in coming days.

In the ruling announced Tuesday morning, the Court said the State of Maine was discriminating against parochial schools through a tuition aid program that was open to nonsectarian private education but barred faith-based schools.

The tuition assistance is available for high school students in the state's small, rural school districts that do not maintain a high school. 

The case, Carson v. Makin, came before the Supreme Court after three families with high school students sued the state but watched the U.S. District Court of Maine rule against them in 2019. A federal appeals court upheld that decision and the U.S. Supreme Court announced in July 2021 is would hear the appeal.

Reacting to the ruling, Michael McClellan of the Christian Civil League of Maine tells AFN the group is encouraged by the ruling.

“And [we] hope that there will be more conversations,” he says, “about how families can make the best decisions for their educational choices here and around the country.”

In the majority opinion, the six justices held the “nonsectarian” requirement violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

“There is nothing neutral about Maine’s program,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion.”

The high court heard oral arguments last December, when religious liberty law firms First Liberty Institute and Institute for Justice represented the families before the nine justices.

In a post-ruling interview, First Liberty attorney Lea Patterson tells AFN the controversy can be traced all the way back to 1980. That year, she says, Maine's state legislature blocked religious schools from participating but allowed nonsectarian schools to continue to benefit.  

"So that's the religious exclusion," she says. 

“Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government,” Kelly Shackleford, chief counsel at First Liberty, said in a statement. “This is a great day for religious liberty in America.”

Shackelford, Kelly (First Liberty Institute) Shackleford

Despite the Court’s determination that Maine was discriminating against parochial schools, the Left had a collective meltdown over the 6-3 ruling because religious schools stand to benefit. 

In a Twitter post, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin predicted the Supreme Court is moving toward a national policy that allows parents to get vouchers to send their children to a public or a parochial school.

And what does that mean? “’Separation of church and state’ is a vanishing concept at the Supreme Court,” he warned.

In another Twitter post, Washington Post op-ed Jennifer Rubin suggested the Supreme Court ruling is “prime Christian Nationalist stuff.”

The 6-3 ruling was also denounced by the ACLU and by the group American Atheists, Townhall reported. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from First Liberty Institute attorney Lea Patterson.