The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to a case under a student aid program in. to take over Maine which prohibits the use of state funds for religious schools, another fight before the Supreme Court at the intersection of religious freedom and School choice.
The case, Carson v. Makin, comes from a Maine program that provides classes for Maine residents to attend private high schools when their local district doesn’t have a public school. It comes after a recent Supreme Court case ruling that the government cannot prohibit state aid from attending religious schools in a publicly available program.
The previous case, Espinoza v. Montana, was seen as a great victory for religious freedom advocates. But the Maine program contains another language that, if maintained, could effectively castrate Espinoza.
The state says it cannot discriminate against schools based on their status of being affiliated with religious institutions. But she says she can ban money from going to school if she gives her students a certain religious point of view – which many religious schools do.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals called this portion of Maine’s program a “usage-based” distinction.
Since the Maine program is only for people living in areas without public schools, the appeals court said those seeking “publicly funded ‘biblically integrated’ or religiously ‘intertwined’ education do not have ‘equal access’ to the benefits that Maine makes available to everyone else – namely, the free benefits of a public education. ”
The district court also said Maine applies a different standard to schools that prohibits receiving government funding. While in the Espinoza case Montana banned all schools affiliated with religious institutions from receiving government funding – “status” discrimination – Maine bans schools based on “what the school teaches through its curriculum.”
This is consistent with the logic of the Espinoza case, in which the judges made a distinction between funding schools connected to religious institutions and funding the “training of clergy”. A ban on government funding of clergy education was upheld in 2004 in a 2004 Supreme Court case called Locke v Davey.
“[A]”Although Espinoza forbids Maine to exclude schools because they are religious, Maine can still exclude parents from choosing schools that do religious things,” said the Institute for Justice, the group that represents the families that make Maine -Contest politics in a press release summarizing the arguments of the state.
Kirby Thomas West, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, appeared to be ridiculing Maine’s law in a tweet Friday.
“Big news! @IJ has come back to SCOTUS for another important #schoolchoice case, ”she said. “When SCOTUS said this time in Espinoza that states are not allowed to discriminate against religious schools, it means that states are not allowed to discriminate against religious schools. Good afternoon, team!”
The Maine Department of Education has argued that its situation is quite unique in that many students in Maine would not receive a publicly funded education without its student support program. Therefore, the program is not the same as that of Montana, which should fund alternatives to public education.
“The study program is not a ‘voucher’ program or any other vehicle for choosing a school,” the state said in a nutshell.
“The study program is the result of a specific legal provision that sectarian training is not to be equated with public training,” said the state. “The degree program is not designed as an alternative to the Maine public education system, but rather as part of it.”
The case is expected to be heard in late 2021 or early 2022 and should be decided by the end of June 2022.