In a ground-breaking case called Carson v. Makin, originating in rural Maine, the Supreme Court last week made clear States giving tuition assistance cannot discriminate against parochial or religious schools – just because they offer religious education. Hooray for common sense!
In short, three families challenged Maine’s restriction on use of K-12 education vouchers. The State, since 1873, has allowed school “choice.” Families living in a place without a public school (half the state) could choose to send their children to a public or private school, in-state or out. Simple, fair, good.
In 1980, a Democrat Attorney General, selected by a Democrat-controlled legislature – Maine is the only state where the legislature picks the AG – decided to add a “non-sectarian” requirement. This upended 100 years of educational practice, forcing parents NOT to send kids to schools teaching religious values.
The parents in Carson v. Makin challenged this notion, asking: “If our neighbors have the freedom to choose a private school and receive tuition from our town, why are we denied this same benefit just because we desire a religious education for our daughter?”
What these parents asked – and the ruling resolved – has national significance. As public schools increasingly discriminate against students, parents, and families of faith, restricting free exercise of religion, pushing secularism over moral values taught by many faiths, parents are objecting.
Across the country, public schools – dominated by secularist, increasingly unconnected, often left-leaning teachers’ unions, many not out of touch with parents, some openly hostile to traditional values, objective and non-politicized history, basic math, biology, established law, even Title IX – are no longer the first choice of concerned parents.
Accordingly, a case challenging rising anti-religious, anti-faith sentiment in public education was timely. Shouldn’t parents have a right to protect their children from indoctrination by leftist ideas, anti-religious teachings, racism through Critical Race Theory, dumping Title IX – which has long given biologically different boys and girls equality in sports and academics? Had they no rights?
While the First Circuit sided with the State, effectively ignoring discrimination against “free exercise of religion” by public schools, which often effectively “establish” a secularist religion, the Supreme Court looked harder at the facts, and applied a combination of text and case law to reverse.
What the Supreme Court said, without hedging their bets, is that all parents – and not left-leaning school systems, administrators, state legislators, or attorneys general – get to decide how their children will be educated.
Returning to how education was managed for most of our country’s history, not just in Maine but nationally, the Supreme Court reset the table. In a 6-3 opinion, which split on judicially conservative versus judicially activist lines, the High Court favored the parents’ choice.
Citing prior caselaw, the Court found Maine’s discrimination against schools with religious instruction violated the First Amendment’s “free exercise clause.” The opinion is cogent, clear, and compelling.
The majority writes: “…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,” adding that prior cases make clear the outcome turns “on the substance of free exercise protections, not on the presence or absence of magic words,” such as words that restrict the right by state law.
The point made is that covering up discrimination against those who live life by religious precepts, people of faith, by claiming to be “religiously neutral,” is really a half-truth, foil, way of dismissing those of faith, or rendering them “second class citizens” – by elevating those of non-faith and teaching that this is proper. The Constitution does not ask that people of faith by demoted, just that the government does not “establish” one religion for all people, such as the Church of England.
The dissent in this case is also revealing. Using the Jeffersonian warning that church and state be separated, a concept often (perhaps intentionally) misunderstood, the dissent tries to split hairs unable to be spilt. They say money can go to a school of “religious character” but not one that teaches “religious ideals.”
The comeback is simple. Religious character involves ideals, and these are – by the way – the ideals that created, sustained, and today keep society together. To pretend these ideals – especially chosen by parents of a child for the child’s education – are somehow mischievous, unworthy, wrong because they stem from a religious source, or insufficiently secular, is hokum.
The dissent’s idea that “religiously neutral” values should be taught is a poor disguise for a secular, anti-religious, political agenda. To believe that teaching “woke-ism,” socialism, Marxism, racism, and anti-faith-ism is what parents signed up for, want, must accept is legal nonsense.
This case is important – because it opens the door of freedom wide, affirming the rights of parents, students, communities, and all those Americans – more than 250 million – who believe in God, who believe values taught by their faith matter, and who wish to impart to their children respect for these values, including at school. More, it disposes of the idea that atheism, statism, leftism, and disparagement of religion is ascendant. Quite the reverse – it is unconstitutional.
We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...
Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.Donate Now