With today’s decision in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court has decided that taxpayer funds may be used to subsidize tuition at private religious schools, including schools that explicitly discriminate against LGBTQ+ and nonreligious students and teachers. At question is the option the State of Maine provides for parents that live in school districts which do not operate their own secondary schools nor contract with a nearby school district to choose schools for their children — including private schools — where the State then pays tuition assistance. The State allowed religious schools in the program as long as they provided a secular curriculum and did not use the state funding for explicitly religious instruction or activities (religious exercise). The Supreme Court decided in a 6-3 decision that this violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment; a parent’s right to freely exercise their religious rights includes choosing any religious school in Maine.
Justice Sotomayor distills the problem in her dissent: “What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was ‘lead[ing] us . . . to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.’ Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens. With growing concern for where this Court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.”
The Secular Coalition for America believes in providing a high-quality secular education to all students, and that taxpayer funds should not be spent on religious private institutions. This decision is a frustrating reminder that, in a time where teachers and school boards are struggling with parents who want to set the specifics of the curriculum to meet their worldview, secular public education must be vigorously defended.