WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in Carson v. Makin, which will decide if parents in Maine can use the state’s scholarship program to send their kids to local religious schools just as the program allows them to send their children to elite private secular schools.
Since many Mainers live in rural areas there are few educational opportunities for students. To fix this issue, Maine offers to pay tuition fees for students to attend the primary schools of their choice. Students can choose elite private secular prep schools and even schooling in other countries but cannot use the scholarship program to attend a local school with a religious curriculum. The state of Maine itself chooses what schools are “too religious” to bar certain institutions from the tuition assistance program.
“Imagine thinking it is fair for privileged students attending elite out-of-state boarding schools to reap the benefits of tuition assistance, but not economically-disadvantaged kids wanting to attend their local religious school down the road,” said Diana Thomson, senior counsel at Becket. “Maine has created an absurd divide that treats religious education as second-class and harms the poor too.”
Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Maine’s parents and students, arguing that religious people are not second-class citizens and that religious schools must not be excluded from public benefits, as the Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed. The Court ruled four years ago in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer that religious schools cannot be barred from generally available government programs. That decision was strengthened in last year’s case, Espinoza v. Montana Board of Revenue, which ruled that Montana could not exclude religious schools from a scholarship program due to bigoted anti-Catholic laws known as Blaine Amendments.
“Maybe the third time’s the charm,” said Thomson. “It shouldn’t take multiple Supreme Court rulings to stop Maine from treating religious people like second-class citizens, but now that the issue is back before it, the Supreme Court should not hesitate to protect religious people not just for who they are but also for what they do.”
SOURCE Becket Fund