The Supreme Court has ruled that religious schools can’t be excluded from a Maine program that offers tuition aid for private education.
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Maine can’t exclude religious schools from a program that offers tuition aid for private education, a decision that could ease religious organization access to taxpayer money.
The most immediate effect of the court’s 6-3 decision beyond Maine will be next door in Vermont, which has a similar program.
But the outcome also could fuel a renewed push for school choice programs in some of the 18 states that have so far not directed taxpayer money to private, religious education.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a conservative majority that the program violates the Constitution’s protections for religious freedoms.
The court’s three liberal justices dissented. “This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote.
Justice Stephen Breyer noted in a separate dissent that Maine “wishes to provide children within the State with a secular, public education. This wish embodies, in significant part, the constitutional need to avoid spending public money to support what is essentially the teaching and practice of religion.”
The ruling is the latest in a line of decisions from the Supreme Court that have favored religion-based discrimination claims. The court is separately weighing the case of a football coach who says he has a First Amendment right to pray at midfield immediately after games.
In largely rural Maine, the state allows families who live in towns that don’t have public schools to receive public tuition dollars to send their children to the public or private school of their choosing. The program has excluded religious schools.
Students who live in a district with public schools or in a district that contracts with another public system are ineligible for the tuition program.
In that case, the court said states don’t have to allow public money to be used in private education. But they can’t keep religious schools out of such programs, once created.