Supreme Court Strikes Down Maine’s Ban on Funding for Religious Schools

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Decision a loss for the Biden administration

The Supreme Court voted 6–3 to strike down as unconstitutional a Maine law that excludes families from a student aid program if they choose to send their children to religious schools, in a decision released June 21.

The ruling is a defeat for the Biden administration, which supported Maine’s position.

Under the program, school districts in the largely rural state provide tuition assistance for students who do not have a local public secondary school so they can attend other institutions—even in foreign countries—as long as the funding is not used for religious education. Fewer than half of Maine’s 260 school administrative units operate a public secondary school of their own.

The petitioners in the case are parents David and Amy Carson of Glenburn, Maine, along with Troy and Angela Nelson, of Palermo, Maine. Respondent A. Pender Makin was sued in her official capacity as commissioner of the Maine Department of Education. The petitioners filed suit in 2018, claiming the “nonsectarian” requirement of the tuition assistance program offended the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the public interest law firm Institute for Justice, argued the case before the Supreme Court and praised the ruling.

“Today’s decision makes clear, once and for all, that the government may not bar parents from selecting religious schools within educational choice programs, whether because of their religious affiliation or the religious instruction they provide,” Bindas said in a statement.

“Parents have a constitutional right to choose such schools for their children, and the Court today held that a state cannot deny them that choice in programs that allow for other private options.”

By Matthew Vadum

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