The U.S. Supreme Court handed school choice advocates a major victory on Tuesday, writes NPR. By a 6-3 vote along ideological lines in the case of Carson v. Makin, the court opened the door further for those seeking taxpayer funding for religious schools.
In its clearest statement to date, the court said that if a state uses taxpayer money to pay for students attending nonreligious private schools, it must also use taxpayer funds to pay for attendance at religious schools.
Supreme Court rules Maine's tuition assistance program must cover religious schools (NPR)
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Excerpt from NPR: Writing for the court majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that when the state pays tuition for students at nonsectarian private schools, but not religious schools, "that is discrimination against religion." The chief justice did offer some suggestions about how to comply with the court's ruling, including setting up a state boarding school for children who live far from public high schools or offering remote learning instead. "Today the court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayer.
The ruling from the court, now with a 6-3 conservative majority, is the latest in a growing line of decisions favoring religious parties. In a 2020 case involving a Montana scholarship program, a divided court ruled 5-4 that states cannot exclude schools from receiving public benefits solely based on their religious status or identity, according to CBS News.
Supreme Court rules Maine's exclusion of religious schools from state tuition program is unconstitutional (CBS News)
Excerpt from CBS News: Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice who argued the case before the court, praised the decision, saying it "makes clear, once and for all, that the government may not bar parents from selecting religious schools within educational choice programs, whether because of their religious affiliation or the religious instruction they provide."
Ilya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University, writes in an opinion piece for NBC News that the 6-3 decision in Carson v. Makin is an important victory for the constitutional principle that government may not discriminate on the basis of religion. It may also help open up valuable opportunities for parents and students, particularly the disadvantaged.
Why the Supreme Court got it right in Maine voucher case (NBC News)
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Excerpt from NBC News: In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a state-run voucher program may not exclude religious schools simply because of their "status" as religious institutions. As Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated in his opinion for the court Tuesday, a state may not "withhold otherwise available public benefits from religious organizations" simply because they are religious. Roberts also noted that discrimination on the basis of religion presumptively violates the clause protecting the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, and can only pass judicial scrutiny — i.e. be deemed constitutional — if it advances "interests of the highest order" and is "narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests."
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