Praise for Major Supreme Court Decision on School Choice

The following is a Catholic Action League of Massachusetts news release…

The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts today hailed this morning’s decision by the United States Supreme Court in Carson v. Makinwhich struck down—on First Amendment grounds—a Maine law which had excluded religious schools from a state funded program of tuition assistance for parents.

The State of Maine offers tuition assistance to parents of students who live in school districts that have no public secondary school. Under that program, parents designate the public or private secondary school they would like their child to attend, and the school district transmits payments to that school to help defray the costs of tuition.

Since 1981, however, Maine has limited tuition assistance payments to nonsectarian schools.

Parents, who wished to send their children to Christian schools, sued the commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, alleging that the nonsectarian requirement violated the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Federal District Court rejected the parents’ claims. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the lower court decision.

Today, in a 6 to 3 decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has ruled that the exclusion of religious schools violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The Court held that a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause.

The Court found that the Maine law promotes a stricter separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires, and that the anti-establishment interest does not justify excluding some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.

“Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”

The Catholic Action League hailed the decision as a “victory for parental rights, religious liberty, and freedom of choice in education.”

Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle made the following comment: “Today’s ruling, following the court’s 2019 decision in Espinoza v. Montanamakes it clear that the so-called Blaine Amendments, rooted in 19th century nativism and anti-Catholic bigotry, which prohibited all state aid to religious schools, are now constitutionally untenable.”

“Among the future likely casualties of these rulings is the most notorious of all anti-aid amendments, the so-called Know-Nothing Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, enacted in a frenzy of anti-Catholicism by the American Party, called the Know Nothings, when they controlled the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth in 1855.”

“Today’s ruling in Carson v. Makin is also a vindication of the former Senate President of Massachusetts, William M. Bulger, whose longstanding and unrelenting opposition to what he called ‘a stain on the Massachusetts Constitution,’ aroused visceral hostility from progressive elites in the Bay State.”

“With today’s ruling, Bulger’s position, which preceded that of the Supreme Court by half a century, now seems prophetic.”

Panorama of the west facade of United States Supreme Court Building at dusk in Washington, D.C., USA. Photo by Joe Ravi, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link