It’s no surprise that the Supreme Court has taken another step to support public funding of religion. It had already been moving that direction with rulings in 2017 and 2020. But today’s decision, in Carson v. Makin, is still a big deal, and it leaves open several questions for the court to address.
The court ruled today that Maine can’t exclude religious schools from a small program that provides tuition vouchers for students in isolated rural areas to attend private secondary schools. Doing so, it said, violates the First Amendments requirement of religious freedom.
“The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious,” Chief Justice John Roberts writes for the 6-3 majority. “That is discrimination against religion.”
The Supreme Court came down heavily in support of religious education when it ruled today that a Montana voucher program that excluded religious schools was unconstitutional. I’ll write more later, but for now, here are a couple of points:
First, the decision doesn’t have any immediate impact on vouchers in Indiana. The Hoosier state, like Montana, has language in its constitution that bars state aid for religious institutions. But the Indiana Supreme Court got around the provision by reasoning that vouchers go to parents, not private schools.
Counselors and teachers at Indianapolis Catholic high schools looked to have a solid case when they sued after being fired for being married to same-sex partners. But the legal ground may be shifting beneath them.
Arguments heard Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court could result in religious schools being given a blank check for widespread employment discrimination.
Supreme Court Building
“It’s important,” said Dan Conkle, a constitutional law expert at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. “And depending on how the court decides, it could have pretty dramatic implications for parochial school teachers.”
The case heard Tuesday involves two fifth-grade teachers at California Catholic schools who said they were unjustly fired, one because of her age and the other because she needed time off for cancer treatment. The schools countered with the so-called ministerial exception, which says ministers and others who perform important religious functions aren’t covered by anti-discrimination laws.
The Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County has gone to court to challenge a religious college’s authorization of a charter school in Ellettsville. The coalition filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court arguing that approval of the school was unconstitutional.
The complaint says Indiana violated the constitutional separation of church and state when it let Grace College and Seminary, an evangelical Christian school, authorize Seven Oaks Classical School. The arrangement violates the state constitution, it says, because the state pays money to Grace College.
Birch Bayh Federal Building and Courthouse, Indianapolis
“Charter schools are taxpayer-supported and take money away from our school corporations, so only state and local officials answerable to the public should be able to authorize them,” ICPE-Monroe County chair Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.
Defendants are Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Charter School Board director James Betley and Seven Oaks Classical School. The lawsuit asks to have part of the state charter school law declared unconstitutional and Seven Oaks’ charter ruled invalid.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County is a local organization made up of parents, current and retired educators and community members that advocates for public schools. It is affiliated with the statewide Indiana Coalition for Public Education. Continue reading