Supreme Court Rules Religious Schools Cannot Be Excluded From School Voucher Program

Court ruled in a 6-3 verdict.

QUICK FACTS:
  • The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Maine’s tuition assistance program was violating the First Amendment by excluding usage for religious schools.
  • The 6-3 decision ruled that the state’s school voucher program that can be used for schools outside the government schools must allow the assistance to be used for religious institutions as well.
  • Chief Justice John Roberts penned the majority opinion in the case, Carson v. Makin, and said that tuition assistance cannot be conditional as it “effectively penalizes the free exercise of religion.”
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling overturned a lower court’s decision that the real benefit of the program was not the tuition assistance but the provision of the “rough equivalent of the public school education that Maine may permissibly require to be secular.”
  • Roberts rejected the assertion, saying “the statute does not say anything like that … The benefit is tuition at a public or private school, selected by the parent, with no suggestion that the ‘private school’ must somehow provide a ‘public’ education.”
EXCERPTS FROM THE COURT’S OPINIONS:
  • “Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion. “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.”
  • “[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,” Roberts wrote.
  • Justice Stephen G. Breyer penned the dissent saying that the majority was giving too much credence to the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and not enough to the Establishment Clause that limits the government’s involvement with religious institutions.
  • “In my view, Maine’s nonsectarian requirement falls squarely within the scope of that constitutional leeway,” Justice Breyer wrote.
BACKGROUND:
  • Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said during a radio appearance that he considered the court’s decision to be concerning.
  • The Biden administration, teachers, and human rights associations all showed support to the state of Maine during their case.