The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 that a Maine school tuition program discriminates against children at faith-based schools as well as “penalizes the free exercise” of religion. The case, Carson v. Makin, was a challenge to the constitutionality of a program that pays for students to attend private schools in cases when they would have to commute long distances to reach the nearest public school. Maine agreed to pay for those students to select any private school they wanted, as long as it wasn’t a religious school. The non-profit religious freedom law firms Institute for Justice and First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of three families from small towns in Maine, Orrington, Glenburn, and Palermo. “We are thrilled that the Court affirmed once again that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in this country,” First Liberty President, CEO, and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said in response to the ruling.
“Parents all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government. This is a great day for religious liberty in America,” he added. According to Chief Justice John Roberts, “the Maine program, ‘effectively penalizes the free exercise’ of religion.'” He added, “A neutral benefit program that gives public funds to religious organizations through the independent choices of the recipients of those benefits does not violate the Constitution’s establishment clause. On the other side, three of the more liberal-leaning justices wrote strong dissents to the opinion. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor said, “What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was ‘leading us to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.’ Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”
CBN News previously reported that Maine’s program was open to religious schools for a century. The Pine Tree State only changed its policy after an opinion by the state’s attorney general without any clear direction from courts or public demands for such actions. The families who filed the lawsuit qualify for Maine’s tuition program in all other respects, but they are excluded from participating only because they chose religious schools for their children. Such discrimination is both unfair and unconstitutional, according to the families’ attorneys. Amy Carson, one of the plaintiffs in the case shared, “Maine families deserve the right to choose the education they believe will be best for their children, whether or not the school teaches religious values.” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver applauded the High Court ruling, calling it a “great victory for religious freedom and school choice.
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