Supreme Court rules for state aid to religious schools

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expanded its support for religious schools, ruling that parents who send their children to such institutions are eligible for college grants if the state awards them to other similar private schools.

The 6-3 decision in Maine’s Carson vs. Makin case could open the door to charter schools for religious schools that are privately run but publicly funded.

In the past, the Supreme Court had ruled that providing public funding for church schools violated the First Amendment prohibition on “establishing a religion.”

But in the past five years, the conservative majority of the court has reversed the equation, ruling that it is unconstitutional discrimination to withhold public funding for church schools simply because they are religious.

Maine has an unusual subsidy program because many of its small towns don’t have high schools. In such cases, students can enroll in a private school or other public secondary school, and the state pays their tuition.

However, the state has not extended these subsidies to students in church schools since the 1980s, apparently fearing it would be unconstitutional.

The majority of the court said that was a mistake.

Of the six conservative justices in the majority, all attended Catholic schools, with the exception of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who attended New Jersey public elementary and high schools.

Conservative judges have in recent years brushed aside the principle of separation of church and state, arguing that it arose out of an anti-Catholic bias in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“It was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic,'” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in 2020, describing common state statutes prohibiting sending taxpayers’ money to schools, who are affiliated with a church. These restrictions were “born out of bigotry” and “came in at a time of pervasive hostility towards the Catholic Church and Catholics in general,” he said in Espinoza vs. Montana.

The First Amendment prohibits laws “respecting an institution of religion,” which have been viewed as prohibiting the government from subsidizing religion. But Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch disagreed.

“The modern view that states must . . . be virtually silent on religious matters is fundamentally flawed,” Thomas wrote in a previous school case. “Rightly understood, the founding clause does not prohibit states from favoring religion.”

Notre Dame law professor Nicole Garnett, a former Thomas employee, predicted last year that “in the near future there will be a move to allow religious charter schools,” either by the courts or the states.

If these “charter school programs are properly viewed as private school choice programs,” they can benefit from the court’s ruling prohibiting the expulsion of religious schools, she said. Supreme Court rules for state aid to religious schools

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