Carson v Makin will force taxpayers to fund religious schools, eroding the divide between church and state.
It began as a small legal fight over education subsidies in Maine. Rural Maine has areas too sparsely populated for public schools, and families in those areas are given subsidies to go to out-of-district public or private schools of their choice. But the subsidy program has excluded any religious schools, due to an interpretation of the First Amendment. The subsidies come from taxpayer money, and taxpayers Constitutionally can’t be forced to pay for religious lessons.
Several Maine families objected, and sued against the state’s policy in court, claiming that to not allow them to use taxpayer money for religious education was discriminating against their First Amendment rights.
On Tuesday, the Republican-appointed Justices of the Supreme Court agreed with the claimants in a 6-3 ruling that Maine taxpayers will be required to fund religious education, including education at non-taxpaying for-profit “faith-based” schools which discriminate in ways that would be illegal were it not for their religious exemptions to the law.
Proponents of the ruling say they want money to follow students, not institutions, and to protect parents’ rights regarding how their children are educated. But those arguments don’t hold up against the risk involved in this ruling.
“We have never previously held what the Court holds today, namely, that a State must (not may) use state funds to pay for religious education as part of a tuition program designed to ensure the provision of free statewide public school education,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in his formal dissent to the results of Carson v Makin.
“This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build,” added Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”
Sotomayor added that she has “growing concern for where this Court will lead us next.”