US Supreme Court hears arguments in case of public funding for Christian education

A Supreme Court case centered around the use of taxpayer funding for private Christian schools is being heard this week. Today the Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Carson v. Makin, a suit brought by parents in Maine who contend that state funding currently available to send students to non-religious private schools should extend to private religious schools as well.

Proponents of religious freedom and Christian education are watching the case closely, as the outcome will have ripple effects in other states as well. The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), American Association of Christian Schools, The Herzog Foundation and dozens of other organizations have filed amicus briefs in support of the parents in the case. 

The case, detailed in a September story by The Lion, is an important and interesting one. Maine has 260 school districts but only 143 of them have public high schools. Since Maine’s constitution guarantees that every resident should have a public education, the state’s Department of Education set up a tuition program to cover the private school tuition of students in districts without a public option. But since the 1980s, the program has excluded religious schools, dubbed ‘sectarian’ schools by a state statute.

At issue for the Supreme Court is whether a state violates the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause or Equal Protection Clause of the constitution by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from using their aid to attend schools that provide religious instruction.

In their brief supporting the Maine students, ACSI, along with a number of other groups contend that the Maine Department of Education is doing just that: discriminating against students who choose to use their state aid to attend religious schools. More than a dozen states, along with Catholic, Southern Baptist, Mormon, and Jewish groups, oppose the religious discrimination currently in practice.

“Religious discrimination is sadly a common occurrence in our country, and the injustice in Maine is just one example,” said Herzog Foundation Chairman Todd Graves. “Discriminating against students and schools solely based on religious identity is a clear and flagrant violation of every American’s right to freely exercise their religion. We are proud to support Christian schools and families in Maine, and look forward to the Court ending this injustice.”