Posted 3 days ago
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."
Roberts stated that with Maine providing the benefit of tuition assistance, they cannot condition those benefits in a way that "effectively penalizes the free exercise of religion."
Religious schools were allowed under the program before 1981, but then Maine adopted its "non-sectarian" requirement, citing the First Amendment. Roberts noted that this addition was made after Maine’s attorney general determined that funding private religious schools would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that a program where private citizens made the decision as to where the money was going would not violate the clause.
The Supreme Court made that same determination on Tuesday.
"[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.
A lower court ruling in Maine's favor had said that the real benefit was not tuition assistance, but the provision of the "rough equivalent of the public school education that Maine may permissible req... (Read more)