Supreme Court Says Maine Can’t Block Religious Schools From Tuition Program

The Supreme Court ruled that Maine cannot exempt religious schools from its tuition assistance program. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said that preventing religious schools from receiving state funds was a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

“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 for the majority. “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.”

When Maine amended the voucher program in 1981 to exclude religious schools, officials cited the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as their justification.

Roberts noted that Maine’s program, which provides vouchers to parents to cover the cost of tuition at private schools, does not violate the Establishment Clause because it is the parents, not state officials, who make the decision as to where the money will be used.

“[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 explained.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced her displeasure with the ruling, noting that the Supreme Court “continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.”

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