SCOTUS is about to hear arguments in a significant school voucher case involving religious freedoms

The Supreme Court is about to consider whether the religion or equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution are violated by a state that provides student-aid to all students except those looking to use the aid to attend religious, or “sectarian,” schools. 

The case is called Carson v. Makin. And, the nine justices will hear oral arguments on Wednesday.


The case comes from the state of Maine. Two families have brought the lawsuit against A. Pender Makin in her official capacity as commissioner of the Maine Department of Education.

Maine has a tuition assistance program for those families who live in areas of the state that do not have secondary public schools. Under this program, parents are allowed to send their children to any public school or to any private school that has been approved by the state. But, parents are not able to send their children to sectarian schools.

The two families who are suing Makin wanted to use the tuition assistance program to send their children to Christan schools. But, the state stopped this from happening by removing the families from the funding program. This is what led to the lawsuit with the parents arguing that Maine has violated the Free Exercise, Establishment, and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.

The case was already heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and the judges, there, ruled in favor of Maine. The court did so using the 2020 case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue as precedent, where the Supreme Court expanded on a previous decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017), to rule that a state violates the free exercise clause when it withholds tuition assistance from parents who want to send their children to private schools. The First Circuit used a “use/status” distinction from this case to uphold Maine’s denial of assistance.

Now, the case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The arguments

Complex arguments and counterarguments are being raised by both sides that are not possible to cover in the space provided. But, a general overview is provided by Fox News.

The outlet reports:

The families allege that Maine is violating the U.S. Constitution – specifically the First and 14th amendments – by denying tuition assistance based on their interest in religious education. Maine’s rule, they argue, is neither neutral toward religion nor generally applicable and discriminates against the families.

Fox adds:

The rule, petitioners say, also violates the Establishment Clause since it “lacks a secular purpose, has a principal effect of inhibiting religion, and, perhaps most problematically, requires excessive government entanglement with religion. To determine whether a student may attend her chosen school, the state must make intrusive inquiries and judgments regarding the school’s religious curriculum and activities.”

The state, however, is arguing that the families are not being denied this tuition assistance because of their religious status, but because what “Maine is offering is a free public education,” and the families “want an entirely different benefit – a publicly subsidized sectarian education.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, here, could come as late as June 2022.

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