Decision to be able to choose where to study. Photo: Religion And American Law

United States: Supreme Court Declares Constitutional the Funding of Religious Schools

This decision of the Supreme Court in the Cardin vs Makin case challenged  a decision of the First Circuit Court, which allowed the state of Maine to exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance benefit based on the fact that these schools include religion as part of their teaching. 

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Written by: Tim Daniels

(ZENIT News / Chihuahua, Mexico, 211.06.2022).- On Tuesday, June 21, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Carson vs Makin, that the state of Maine cannot exclude students that attend religious schools from a governmental program for which, moreover, they are qualified. 

Maine had prohibited families to use the funds of a State tuition program  — designed for students that do not have access to a local public school — in private religious schools that incorporate a curricular religious perspective. 

“When the Government offers parents the possibility to choose a school,  it cannot take away the options that are regarded as ‘too religious’ or retain  funds to those that choose religious schools when the State offers those funds to all the others,” said the senior counsellor of the ADF and Vice-President  of the Defense of Appeals, John Bursch. The Supreme Court’s decision today affirms our country’s permanent principle of religious liberty and, what is more important, it allows Maine’s parents the freedom to send their children to schools that are aligned to their beliefs.” 

The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on its previous ruling in Espinoza vs the Department of Finance of Montana and on Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia vs Comer, a case in which the ADF’s lawyers argued successfully before the High Court that a State cannot discriminate against a religious school in the granting of funds to improve the security of recreation patios. 

“Maine’s ‘non-sectarian’ requirement for its tuition assistance payments, which otherwise would be generally available, violates the Free Exercise Clause,” concluded the High Court, stressing that this doesn’t mean that a State “must” finance religious education. “However, once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some schools solely because they are religious.” And this is so regardless of the fact that a State might disqualify a school because of its religious condition or because the latter integrates religion in its plan of studies. “Any attempt to make that distinction effective by examining if a religious school carries out its educational mission, and how it does so, would also arouse serious concern about the involvement of the State with religion and confessional favouritism.”

This ruling of the Supreme Court in the Carson vs Makin case challenges a decision of the First Circuit Court, which allowed the State of Maine to exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance benefit based on the fact that these schools include religion as part of their teaching. By a 6-3 vote, the Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, President of the Committee for Religious Freedom of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, President of the USCCB’s Catholic Education Committee issued the following statement in response to the Court’s ruling: 

“The Supreme Court has ruled with reason that the Constitution protects not only the right to be religious, but also to act in a religious way. This common sense result reflects the essence of Catholic education. Moreover, the Court has affirmed again that States cannot exclude  religious schools from the generally available public benefits, based on their religious affiliation or exercise. In our pluralist society, it is vital that all persons of faith can take part in programs available publicly and thus contribute to the common good. 

It is opportune that this decision referred to a program in Maine, the State in which James G. Blaine was senator in 1875, when he worked for the approval of the Blaine Amendment, a cynically anti-Catholic measure to amend the Constitution of the United States in order to guarantee that public aid not be granted to ‘sectarian’ schools. Although his effort was narrowly defeated, the Blaine Amendment was finally adopted in some way by 37 States. These laws have nothing to do with the government’s neutrality on religion. Rather, they are expressions of hostility towards Catholics. We are grateful that the Supreme Court continues to rebuke this damaging legacy.”


With information from ADF and USCCB.

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