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Supreme Court Hands Huge Win To Conservatives, OK’s Use of Public Funds For Religious Education

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The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state programs providing money for public school tuition cannot exclude schools that offer religious instruction in a landmark ruling for religious freedom.

The vote was 6-3, with Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.

According to NBC, “At issue was a state program in Maine that made taxpayer money available to families who live in remote areas without public high schools. Under the state law, they could use the money for their children’s tuition at public or private schools in other communities, but not for sectarian schools, defined as those that promote a particular faith or belief system and teach material ‘through the lens of this faith.’” 

The court ruled: But as we explained at length in Espinoza, “it is clear that there is no ‘historic and substantial’ tradition against aiding [private religious] schools comparable to the tradition against state-supported clergy invoked by Locke.”

Locke cannot be read beyond its narrow focus on vocational religious degrees to generally authorize the State to exclude religious persons from the enjoyment of public benefits on the basis of their anticipated religious use of the benefits.

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.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered,” the court ruled.

The American Federation for Children issued a statement that said:

“On Tuesday, 20 years after 2002’s pivotal Zelman decision, the United States Supreme Court handed down an exciting ruling for families across the United States.

“In the Carson v. Makin case, the Court has further clarified its ruling in Espinoza, which had established that states may not exclude school options based on their religious status.

“In Carson, families sued when their options were limited based on religious use. In other words, lower courts had ruled that participating schools could be religious in name only – and families could not have the option if they did religious things.

“Now, the Court has ruled 6-3 that this barrier is unconstitutional. 

“The ruling says, “A neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause.”

Statement from Tommy Schultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children:

“This is a thunderclap for education freedom. Parents across America can celebrate today as the Court has affirmed their fundamental right to choose an education that works for their family.

“With today’s ruling, the rights of American students have been resoundingly confirmed. Now, legislators in every state must take action to provide as many options as possible to families in their state. AFC stands ready to support this goal.”