The government cannot exclude students who attend religious schools from utilizing funds from a state tuition assistance program, the Supreme Court ruled on June 21. To do so would constitute a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, per the court’s 6-3 decision in Carson v. Makin, a case concerning a Maine law that restricted families from participating in an otherwise generally available high school student aid program unless the tuition was used at a “nonsectarian” school.
“The state pays tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” stated Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority. “A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”
“NRB’s membership is diligently protecting and advocating for crucial First Amendment freedoms every day. We are proud to have members fighting to preserve families’ opportunity to freely enroll their children in faith-based education in alignment with their conscience and values,” said NRB CEO Troy A. Miller. “NRB applauds the decision of the Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin and stands against religious discrimination in all forms.”
What NRB Members Are Saying
First Liberty Institute, a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans, joined Institute for Justice (IJ) in representing the parents of children in religious schools who sued the state of Maine.
Celebrating the win, First Liberty Institute issued a press release stating:
“We are thrilled that the Court affirmed once again that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in this country,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government. This is a great day for religious liberty in America.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in partnership with Jones Day on behalf of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty in 2021. The brief stated that “states cannot discriminate against religion by excluding religious schools from subsidy and scholarship programs that benefit other private schools. That ruling promotes the flourishing of religious exercise in this country by ensuring that parents who wish to educate their children in a faith- based environment are not financially disadvantaged or deterred by arbitrary government exclusions.”
After Tuesday’s win, ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy, John Bursch, said “when the government offers parents school choice, it can’t take away choices that are deemed ‘too religious’ or withhold funds from those who choose religious schools when the state offers those funds to everybody else.” Bursch went on to say that the “decision from the Supreme Court affirms our country’s abiding principle of religious liberty and, importantly, allows Maine parents the freedom to send their children to schools that align with their beliefs.”
Family Research Council, a nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to articulating and advancing a family-centered philosophy of public life, commemorating the court’s decision tweeted:
“A huge win today for school choice! In Carson v. Makin, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Christian schools cannot be excluded as beneficiaries of existing tax credits, voucher programs, or education savings programs.”