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SCOTUS Slaps Down Religious Bigots in Maine

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled a Maine law denying public funds to students who attend private religious schools was unconstitutional in a huge win for both religious liberty and school choice.

Carson v. Makin centered on a challenge by parents to a Maine law that pays tuition costs for students in districts that do not run their own secondary schools. Students had the option to either attend another public school or a nonsectarian private school where the state would pay their tuition.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, noted that the court has “repeatedly held that a State violates the Free Exercise Clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits.” He added 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.”

Roberts added:

The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.

[…]

Saying that Maine offers a benefit limited to private secular education is just another way of saying that Maine does not extend tuition assistance payments to parents who choose to educate their children at religious schools.

The chief justice concluded that “Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. 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.”

Not surprisingly, the Court’s liberal justices—Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan—dissented from the majority. Breyer essentially argued in his dissent (joined by Kagan and in part by Sotomayor) that allowing the state to send money to private religious schools would create a slippery slope and lead to “religion-based social divisions.”

What happens once “may” becomes “must”? Does that transformation mean that a school district that pays for public schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to send their children to religious schools? Does it mean that school districts that give vouchers for use at charter schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to give their children a religious education? What other social benefits are there the State’s provision of which means—under the majority’s interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause—that the State must pay parents for the religious equivalent of the secular benefit provided? The concept of “play in the joints” means that courts need not, and should not, answer with “must” these questions that can more appropriately be answered with “may.”

It’s funny, I don’t recall Breyer worrying about slippery slopes when the Court legalized gay marriage, forced Obamacare on Americans, and upheld the right to murder unborn babies. On the contrary, as many of us warned when the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing gay marriage came down, that “may” is turning to “you must affirm every behavior and sexual deviancy known to man—or else, bigot” for individuals with sincerely held religious beliefs. Those on the Left are not the ones having to look over their shoulders fearing they’ll lose their job or social status if they run afoul of the Left’s diktats on social issues.

Breyer went on to claim that “public schools are religiously neutral, neither disparaging nor promoting any one particular system of religious beliefs” and that the Court has “consistently required public school education to be free from religious affiliation or indoctrination.”

That’s a bunch of horse pucky and everyone knows it. Public schools, as we’ve seen over the past year, are by no means neutral when it comes to religion. They celebrate secular humanism and the religion of wokeism, while disparaging traditional religious beliefs at every turn. Breyer also complained that taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund religious activities with which they disagree. (Forcing everyone to pay for abortions—a sacrament of leftist religion—is just fine though.)

Justice Sotomayor, always the turd in the freedom punchbowl, called the decision “perverse,” and griped that “This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.” She added:

What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was “lead[ing] us . . . to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.” Trinity Lutheran, 582 U. S., at ___ (dissenting opinion) (slip op., at 27). Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens. With growing concern for where this Court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.

Never mind that the words “separation of church and state” appear nowhere in the Constitution—it was ripped from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson. But the left is fond of clinging to extrajudicial sources and various made-up penumbra when they don’t have a constitutional leg to stand on, and the dissents here are no exception.

According to Amy Howe at Scotusblog, “The opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts was a broad ruling, making clear that when state and local governments choose to subsidize private schools, they must allow families to use taxpayer funds to pay for religious schools… The decision was the latest in a series of cases in recent years in which the court has sided with parents and religious institutions challenging state policies that barred them from receiving education-related funds that were available for secular, but not religious, recipients.”

While I’m happy about this decision, it’s important to remember that money from the government ALWAYS comes with strings attached. TANSTAAFL and all that. Think long and hard before you use government education benefits, especially those from the federal government and its corrupt and controlling bureaucracy.

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