SCOTUS Ruling Regarding School Funds Marks a Distinctly Religious Court
The 6-3 vote has decidedly blurred the lines between the separation of church and state.
The Supreme Court’s June 21 ruling allows the use of government subsidies to send children to religious schools.
The ruling was made in regards to a Maine law that banned the use of public funds to pay for the tuition at religious schools. Maine has a tuition assistance program that allocates taxpayer money to families who live in parts of the state that are devoid of public school systems, allowing them to send their child to an approved private school as long as it’s secular. Two families brought a case forward against the law, claiming that it violated the Constitution.
“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”
The New York Times reported that the expansion of religious rights has been established as a chief priority of the conservative-majority court, headed by Roberts.
The decision was met with opposition from the Supreme Court’s liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan. They viewed the ruling as an iteration of further dissolution of “the wall of separation between church and state that the framers fought to build,” per a dissent from Sotomayor.
The notion of “indoctrination,” a term that’s been weaponized by many conservative factions to describe schools’ inclusion of teachings relating to sexuality, gender identity, and critical race theory, finds unique positionality in the ruling.
Many people took to social media to cite what they’ve identified as a flagrant form of irony. Pediatrician and Maine resident Daniel Summers tweeted yesterday saying, “Someone’s out there trying to indoctrinate kids, and it ain’t drag queens.” He added in a follow-up tweet, “As a gay Mainer, just tickled the sickest shade of pink that my tax dollars will go to schools that openly discriminate against gay Mainers. Love to pay for kids to be taught to hate me!”
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) also expressed dismay online, tweeting, “Public money should be used for public education. I strongly disagree with this opinion, which ignores the importance of separating religion and government and will result in public money going to schools that discriminate.”
Meanwhile, many religious conservatives and organizations have praised the ruling, saying that it “opens the door for our advocacy efforts at the state and local levels.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to Twitter yesterday as well, calling the decision a “massive win for families, the school choice movement, and for religious liberty.”