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The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Tuesday that a Maine tuition assistance program violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause for excluding religious schools from eligibility.
The program provides tuition assistance for students without a local public school to attend private institutions – as long as the funding is not used for religious or “sectarian” teaching.
“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 in the case of Carson v. Maykin. “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.”
During oral arguments, Maine Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub argued that the state should not be funding anything that instills religious beliefs, and that providing money for secular private schools does not do that.
“They are not being discriminated against, they simply are not being offered a benefit that no family in Maine is entitled to,” Taub said.
Even during arguments, Roberts did not appear convinced.
“You’re discriminating among religions based on their beliefs,” Chief Justice John Roberts said at the time, pointing to how if one religion taught the same way as a public school but a different religion taught differently, the first would be able to participate in the program but the other would not.
“So it is the beliefs of the two religions that determines whether or not the schools are going to get the funds,” Roberts said. “And we have said that is the most basic violation of the First Amendment religion clauses for the government to draw distinctions between religions based on their doctrine.”
This is a developing story. Check back for more details.