Supreme Court: Religious schools can access taxpayer dollars

by WorldTribune Staff / 247 Real News June 21, 2022

In a 6-3 ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the First Amendment requires that states be neutral in spending decisions, meaning that state programs which are generally open to all can’t shut out a religious applicant.

U.S. Supreme Court / Wikimedia Commons

The ruling said that states which offer to pay tuition costs for students attending private schools can’t refuse to pay when the school is religious. The decision came in a Maine case involving a school voucher program.

Maine’s voucher program “operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion in Carson v. Makin. That violates the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion, he said.

The ruling does not require states to offer funding to religious schools if they don’t already fund private schools.

“The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” Roberts wrote.

The appeals court said Maine’s program acted in the stead of public education, which means the state has significant leeway to decide if a private school meets the state’s own standards.

Roberts said that’s not how the law reads.

His ruling was joined by the court’s five other GOP-appointed members of the court: Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

The case is the latest in a string of decisions pushing back against states wary of any public money going to religious causes.

In 2017, the justices ruled against a Missouri law that had barred churches from applying for funds to upgrade playgrounds. And in 2020 the court ruled that Montana couldn’t block tuition payments from going to private schools because of their religious affiliations.

The majority said the Maine decision follows directly from those rulings.

School choice and faith-based groups cheered the ruling, calling it a “landmark” decision.

“This is a thunderclap for education freedom,” said Tommy Schultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group.

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