This Supreme Court Case Could Take a 'Wrecking Ball' to Separation of Church and State

The US supreme court building is in Washington.

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The high school sweethearts were Amy and David. They met at Bangor Christian Schools when they were in their teens. Their siblings attended school. Family members have taught there. Amy says it is an extended family community.

Which is why she wanted her only child to attend Bangor Christian. She says that the value of the school is very important. They have a strong educational platform.

The Carsons have lived in Maine for 25 years. The town is in a region of rural Maine that doesn't have a public high school. The state of Maine gives parents money to send their children to approved private schools if they qualify for the tuition assistance program.

The Institute for Justice has a website.

The Institute for Justice has a picture of Dave and Amy and their daughter.

The program cannot be used to pay for Bangor Christian. The rule that Maine will not fund the attendance of schools that provide religious education is aimed at preventing public funds from being used for religious activity. The Carsons paid out of pocket for tuition for students in 6th through 12th grade, because they didn't have enough money to pay for their daughter's high school tuition.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Maine's policy violated the constitutional rights of the Carsons. The family joined a lawsuit with the Nelsons, who wanted to use the tuition assistance program to send their son to a religious school but weren't able to, to argue that the state violated both the religion clauses and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. A federal district court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed about the separation of church and state in Maine. The Supreme Court will decide who was right after the families appealed with the support of a libertarian law firm.

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Even if the high court agrees with them, the tuition program won't benefit them. The case has grown beyond Amy's family. She tells Time that she is trying to open this up for other families. The Nelsons said they wanted their son to attend a Christian school in Maine, but had to send him to a secular school that qualified for the tuition assistance program because it was more affordable.

The outcome of the case is not clear. The Maine Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is one of the reasons why Maine wants to accept public funds. Bangor Christian and Temple Academy have already said they would not accept funds from Maine's tuition program if it means they have to change their policies. The principal of Bangor Christian Schools declined to comment when reached by Time, and representatives for Temple Academy did not respond to requests for comment.

Regardless of what happens to the Nelsons, their suit could change the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court has recently been asked to weigh in on religious liberty, which has been the case in many of the recent cases. If the court rules broadly, it could have a huge impact on whether religious institutions can get state funding.

Rachel Laser, the President and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argues that the court could eviscerate laws that restrict public funding of religious education and open the door for taxpayer dollars to go towards religious instruction.

The wall of separation between church and state is being looked at by the law and policy director of a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights. The notion that no one should have to pay for other people's religion is about as basic as it gets, and yet we are seeing it flipped on its head in these education contexts.

The wall of separation between the church and state is being destroyed.

The state is accused of discriminating against religious people by not allowing their preferred schools to participate in the program. Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, argues that the state is telling citizens if they can have a government benefit or not. No parent should have to make that choice.

The battle over religious freedom has been going on for a while.

The issue of public funding being directed toward religious institutions has been dealt with in other rulings.

The Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. that the state of Missouri had violated the right to free exercise of religion when it excluded the church from the playground program.

The Institute for Justice brought the case in which the court ruled that Montana violated the free exercise clause by denying religious schools access to the tuition-assistance program. The court's makeup has grown more conservative since then, with the arrival of Justice Amy ConeyBarrett, who was nominated by President Trump in September 2020.

The ruling from the Espinoza case determined that it was unconstitutional for a state to exclude religious entities from public funding programs simply because of their religious status, but that it was also unconstitutional to exclude institutions because the state funding would go toward religious activity. Bindas says that the distinction is called hair splitting.

The families argue that it is unfair that some schools with religious traditions are allowed to qualify for Maine's program, and that the example of the private, all-boys Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire, which Chief Justice John Roberts' son attended and which describes itself, is a good example

The Separation of Church and State is a topic that has been discussed.

State officials argue that religious schools don't provide an education that is equivalent to a public education because they teach religious views that might conflict with a public school curriculum.

The establishment clause is at odds with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The government cannot establish or favor a religion while the former protects a person's right to practice religion.

Religious schools can and do advance their own religion to the exclusion of all others, discriminate in both the teachers they hire and the students they admit, and teach religious views that are inimical to what is taught in public schools. The Attorney General of Maine said that parents are free to send their children to such schools, but not with public dollars. I am confident that the Supreme Court will recognize that Maine does not have to include religious schools in its public education system.

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Some legal experts think that the case will be an extension of Espinoza. Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia School of Law professor and an expert on religious freedom who filed a brief in support of the parents in this case, called Maine's argument " completely untenable after Espinoza."

Laycock says that the idea of a religious institution that doesn't do anything religious is an empty set. The difference that doesn't exist in the real world is what makes it a distinction.

Bindas says that it is not about the government directly funding religious schools, which would receive money indirectly if a family chose to send their children there. He says that this isn't a situation where the government is funding schools. The government is giving families the power to decide where to use the benefit.

Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, says that the current court has reduced the establishment clause to little more than a shabby old picket fence. If the court keeps going in that direction, it will be significant. It changes the nature of society.

There is tension between religious freedom and the rights of the gay community.

The conflict between religious freedom and the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGBT) community is being raised. Maine alleges in court that Bangor Christian and Temple Academy discriminate against people of other religions and the LGBTQ community.

According to a brief filed by Maine officials, Bangor Christian Schools may suspend or expel students who are trans or gay if they are found to be insubordinate.

The Institute for Justice has a picture of Troy and his family.

The Nelsons had hoped to send their children to Temple Academy, a Christian school that wouldn't admit a child who lives in a two-father or a two- mother family. According to the Maine filing, its employment agreement for teachers includes an acknowledgement that God recognizes homosexuals and other deviants as perverted.

Advocates worry that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could result in taxpayer money going to schools that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

This isn't just about a pronoun. The rights of teachers and trans students are at odds.

Pizer says that the door might be blown off its hinges with the decision in this case. I am worried that the Supreme Court has moved in a direction that facilitates discrimination in new and dangerous ways, not just for the LGBTQ community, but for women, for religious minorities, and for all minorities.

The lawyer for the Carsons said that Maine's concerns about LGBTQ discrimination were an attempt to distract from the state's discrimination.

The school choice movement received a boost.

The case could boost the school choice movement, which supports programs that enable parents to use public funds to send their child to schools beyond a traditional public school, and strengthen private education at the expense of public education. Roughly 10% of K-12 students are in private schools in the U.S., while 7% are in public charter schools. If the cases of Carson v. Makin are successful, private schools will be more accessible and affordable.

Maine is one of a few states that offer this kind of tuition program for students who don't have a public school option. The federal appeals court blocked Vermont from barring religious schools from its tuition program.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the people in the case, other states could face pressure from religious communities to create similar programs that include religious schools.

Laser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is alarmed by that possibility. She says that religious instruction should never substitute for public education and that it is at risk of being turned into a license to discriminate.