Supreme Court decision on religious schools receiving aid

June 22, 2022
A wooden gavel in front of black background.

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.

Chief Justice John Roberts in the court’s majority opinion. The U.S. Supreme Court voted to allow private religious schools in Maine to receive state tuition dollars when students do not live near public schools.
  • Background: The U.S. Supreme Court was presented with a case involving the Maine Department of Education. The government agency had a rule allowing "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. That program excludes religious schools" (AP). Two families living in rural areas sued because they did not live near public schools and wanted to continue sending their children to nearby Christian schools.
  • The decision: The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the program cannot exclude religious schools. Chief Justice Roberts stated in the majority opinion that “Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment."
  • The dissenting opinion: "This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her opinion. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his 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.”
  • Big Picture: The Supreme Court is expected to make another decision involving "religion-based discrimination claims" sometime this month (AP). The case involves a football coach who was fired for praying publicly on the football field after games.

Why It Matters: The Supreme Court decision extends beyond Maine. Other states some with larger school systems are debating whether to direct government funding to private, religious education; this case helps set a precedent.

Supreme Court: Religious schools must get Maine tuition aid (Associated Press)

by Jenna Lee,