Can Maine Cover the Cost of Christian School Tuition? …… | News and reports
The Supreme Court’s latest case regarding public funding for religious education examines policy in Maine, a state dotted with small towns too small to run their own public schools. More than half of the state’s school districts (officially referred to as âschool administrative unitsâ or SAU for short) contract and pay tuition fees to another nearby school at the parents’ choice, public or private.
And this is where the blockage lies. By law, Maine requires private partner schools to be “non-denominational in nature, as per the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” to receive funding, and three Christian families in the state are contesting this requirement.
The Supreme Court will hear their case, Carson vs. Makin, this week. The ruling could set an additional precedent in defining the distance between church and state and the approach to religious freedom itself, as it makes a distinction between the prohibition of public funding due to the religious identity of the recipient and the prohibition of funding for religious purposes for which it would be used. advance.
The families in the case argue that the requirement violates their free exercise of religion since the state prohibits them “from using school aid from their UAS to send their children to religious schools.”
Two of the families, the Carsons and the Gillis, send their children to Bangor Christian School, an elementary school whose philosophy is based on educating children “with a biblical worldview.” The other family, the Nelsons, would like to send their daughter to Temple Academy, another Christian school that integrates academic studies with “scripture truths.”
Neither family had actually applied for the Tuition Assistance Program, but they cite Maine’s “non-sectarian” requirement as a key factor that makes an attempt to even apply for the Tuition Assistance Program. of schooling a futile endeavor.
Bangor Christian and Temple, due to their biblical principles, refuse to hire LGBT teachers and would not accept state aid for school fees if it meant adhering to human rights law of Maine, which prohibits discrimination in hiring based on factors such as sexual orientation and gender identity.
“As a preliminary issue, the court will have to decide whether families have the constitutional capacity to sue,” Kimberly Wehle, professor of law at the University of Baltimore, written for Atlantic. “Their schools of their choice are unwilling to participate in the funding in the first place, so a ruling in their favor would not remedy any tangible harm, which is necessary to gain access to federal courts.”
Notwithstanding the threshold, what the conservative 6-3 Supreme Court might decide by Carson, according to Wehle, is whether Maine’s non-sectarian requirement distinguishes based on the religious status of these schools or whether Maine law was made on the basis of a school’s proposed use of public funding to religious purposes.
As it stands, no government, state or national, can discriminate the funding of institutions on the basis of religious status, but it can refuse the use of public funds if the funds in question were intended for religious functions.
Some critics of the policy, like Charles L. Glenn To First things and columnist George F. Will To The Washington Post, see the distinction as the state penalizing distinctly religious schools of a particular tradition while allowing funding for schools that teach broader “universal” spiritual values. Glenn writes: âThere is a real risk that denominational schools will soften their religious identity in order to become more acceptable to the government.
While there have been court cases at the appeals and Supreme Court level that have addressed similar issues, the Supreme Court most recently ruled in June 2020 Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that Montana’s ban on religious schools from its state scholarship program was unconstitutional.
This decision, suggesting that states cannot discriminate on the sole basis of sectarian status, could serve as a precedent for a Carson vs. Makin decision.
When Carson vs. Makin went to the United States Court of Appeals earlier this year, the court interpreted the difference between the Espinoza and Carson case was between the distinction of use and status. A government cannot discriminate when it offers funds to religious organizations on the basis of its religious identity alone; but, the court argued, it can discriminate whether the funds would be used for “religious” purposes.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an advocacy organization on the religious freedom front that has joined with other advocates in submitting friend of the court briefs to the Supreme Court, is not consistent with the use / status distinction found in the decision of the Court of Appeal.
âThe First Amendment prohibits the government from discriminating against religious people just because they are religious,â wrote Diana Thomson, Becket’s Board of Governors. âIf the government is excluding religious groups for using funds religiously because of their religious beliefs, then no better than excluding them because they have those beliefs. “
According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the cancellation of Carson vs. Makin would mean that the taxpayer, regardless of religion, would fund religious education even if he or she does not share or support those beliefs.
âOur country has a long tradition of not forcing taxpayers to fund religious activities, including religious education,â said Alex Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate general counsel at Americans United.
âThis tradition has long been recognized and affirmed in Supreme Court decisions. Ensuring that religious education is funded only by private dollars protects the freedom of conscience of taxpayers and protects religious institutions from government interference.
Maine has 707 schools, and about 18% of these are private schools. Among private schools, 14% are classified as “sectarian”.
This case will affect not only students in Maine, but students across the country as well if this case sets a new precedent for public funding, especially as families are more and more attracted by educational alternatives. Education Next appointed 2021 a âpivotal yearâ for the choice of school, with “18 states adopting seven new educational choice programs and expanding 21 existing ones.”
Michael W. McConnell, director of the Center for Constitutional Law at Stanford University, a former federal judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote a brief to a friend of the tribunal at the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs in this case. He believes that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would in effect put families and religious entities on an equal footing with secularists.
“If the court decides Carson in favor of families and schools, this will complete the court’s transition from the idea of ââunaided separationism to the idea of ââneutrality towards religion, âsaid McConnell.
“This will bring the Court’s case law into line with the historic objectives of the establishment clause and with common sense interpretations of government neutrality, in which private entities are treated equally, with no benefit to the laity and no benefit to the public. religious people. “
Other jurists argue that public funding of Christian study programs would be a flagrant violation of First Amendment principles.
âThe mountain of case law and legal tests produced under the auspices of the sparse text of the amendment underscores that there is no obvious, black-and-white answer to whether the Constitution recognizes a parental ‘right’ to get taxpayer funded religious education if non-denominational schools are eligible, âWehle wrote in Atlantic.
“If a fractured court ends up requiring the use of public education funds to teach” an entirely Christian and biblical worldview “under these circumstances, the erasure of the long-standing separation of Church and State in the United States has started. “