Wednesday, June 22, 2022

High court, in case from rural Maine areas without high schools, says states can't deny tuition aid to religious ones

"The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to religious schools," Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post. "Under Maine’s program, jurisdictions in rural areas too sparsely populated to support secondary schools of their own can arrange to have nearby schools teach their school-age children, or the state will pay tuition to parents to send their kids to private schools. But those schools must be nonsectarian, meaning they cannot promote a faith or belief system or teach 'through the lens of this faith,' in the words of the state’s Department of Education."

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the program essentially discriminates against religion, in violation of the Constitution. States are not obliged to subsidize private schools, but if they do, they can't discriminate against religious schools, he wrote. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the decision continued the dismantling of the separation of church and state sought by the nation's founders, Barnes reports.

Maine's program affects a few thousand students, but the ruling "could have far greater implications as the more conservative court systematically adjusts the line between the Constitution’s protection of religious exercise and its prohibition of government endorsement of religion," Barnes writes.

The ruling "could fuel a renewed push for school choice programs in some of the 18 states that have so far not directed taxpayer money to private, religious education," Mark Sherman reports for The Associated Press. "The most immediate effect of the court’s ruling beyond Maine probably will be in nearby Vermont, which has a similar program."

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