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Supreme Court to hear arguments over tuition assistance for religious schools

by Premier Journalist

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it has agreed to hear arguments in a case about whether parents in Maine are allowed to receive state tuition assistance if their children enroll in private religious schools.

On Friday, the Supreme Court released a list of orders for future cases that the Court would hear in the next term. The list included David Carson et al. v. A. Pender Makin. The plaintiffs in the case, represented by the Institute for Justice, are a group of parents attempting to challenge current state regulations. The defendant is Pender Makin, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Education. In the initial lawsuit, the parents expressed concern about a regulation that restricts tuition assistance to private schools that are "nonsectarian in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

In 2018, the parents sued Maine over the restrictions, stating that they desired tuition assistance for families who prefer schools with more sectarian aspects to their education, including religious expression. In 2019, a district judge ruled against the plaintiffs, stating that the ruling in question was constitutional. 

The First Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the decision. "In conditioning the availability of that assistance," wrote Circuit Judge David Barron "on the requirement that recipients use it for educational instruction that is as nonsectarian in content as the free public education that is not directly available to them." The plaintiffs then filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to take it up.

"By singling out religion — and only religion — for exclusion from its tuition assistance program, Maine violates the U.S. Constitution," argues Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Michael Bindas in a prewritten statement. "By allowing nominally religious schools to participate but excluding schools that actually provide a religious curriculum, Maine is making governmental decisions about how religious is too religious. Government should not have that power."

No date is set for when the Supreme Court will hear the arguments. The next Supreme Court term will start in October.


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