Supreme Court to hear Maine ban on religious school funding

The Supreme Court has decided it will hear a case against Maine’s ban on using financial aid through a state program to attend religious schools, the court announced Friday.

Families have challenged a Maine Department of Education policy that says public tuition dollars for families who don’t live near a public school can’t be used to send children to religious schools, but can be used to send them to public or private schools.

Plaintiffs in the case, Carson v. Makin, filed a petition earlier this year with the Supreme Court, which was granted on Friday. It is one of 10 cases that the high court added to its docket on Friday while closing out its nine-month term.

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Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey (D) maintained in a statement reported by The Associated Press that religious schools are excluded from the public tuition dollars “because the education they provide is not equivalent to” public schools.

“Parents are free to send their children to such schools if they choose, but not with public dollars. I am confident that the Supreme Court will recognize that that nothing in the Constitution requires Maine to include religious schools in its public education system,” Frey said, according to AP.

All the lower courts have ruled in favor of the state.

The Institute For Justice, a firm representing the families, said in a press release that it could be a “landmark case” for school choice.

“By singling out religion—and only religion—for exclusion from its tuition assistance program, Maine violates the U.S. Constitution,” said Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the group.

“The state flatly bans parents from choosing schools that offer religious instruction. That is unconstitutional,” he added.

While the conservative-majority court took up the school funding case and others on Friday, it declined to hear another case over a Washington state florist who refused to service a same-sex couple's wedding, leaving in place a lower court ruling that the business had engaged in unlawful discrimination. 

At least four of the court's nine justices must vote in favor of hearing a case in order for the court to take it up.