Opinion | Breyer warned the Supreme Court’s voucher ruling could cause ‘religious conflicts.’ He’s wrong.
On Tuesday, Supreme Court Overturns a Maine Act excluded most religious private schools from the voucher program that applies to similar secular schools. The 6-3 decision in Carson v. Makin was an important victory for the constitutional principle that government must not discriminate. the basis of religion. It can also help open up valuable opportunities for parents and students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled Espinoza sues Montana Department of Revenue It’s a voucher program run by the state may not exclude religious schools solely because of their “status” as religious institutions. As Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated in his view in court Tuesday, a state must not “withhold public benefits available from religious institutions” simply because they are religious.
In his dissenting view, Breyer argued that majority opinion in Carson could fuel “religious conflict”. But it can really reduce such conflicts.
Roberts also notes that discrimination on the basis of religion may violate the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion and can only pass judicial scrutiny – i.e. is considered constitutional – if it promotes “the interests of the highest order” and is “to be narrowly adjusted to pursue those interests. ” For example, it would certainly be unconstitutional for a state to give welfare subsidies to Christians while denying them to qualified secularists. Although the state may choose not to establish welfare programs in the first place, but if they do, beneficiaries cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion.
To date, the state of Maine has subsidized the costs of private schools that provide a curriculum equivalent to that of a public school curriculum for approximately 5,000 children living in the counties (the school administrative unit, according to the state of Maine). Maine parlance), too sparsely populated to support their public schools. . However, Maine refuses to subsidize attendance at private schools with religious curricula in these areas, even if they have met all applicable state laws.
Defenders of the Maine voucher program, including Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissenting opinion, claim this is not a case of religious discrimination because the program does not exclude religiously affiliated schools. such a sect, which only excludes “sectarian” schools – which State Department of Education is defined as an organization that, “in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is affiliated and/or presents material taught through the lens of this faith. ”
This legal theory is known as the “status of use” distinction. It argues that, while governments may not discriminate against organizations based on their religious “status,” it may do so based on their potential “religious use.” resources that the state can extend to them.
This distinction makes no sense, especially when it comes to schools, and courts have had the power to overrule it. The First Amendment explicitly protects not only religious beliefs and beliefs, but also “free” protection do exercise“Of religion (emphasis added). The word “exercise” suggests that people should be free to act on their faith – including trying to promote it. As a matter of fact, almost any religious school worthy of this name will promote “the system of faith or belief to which it is attached” at least to some extent.
The flaws of the “state of use” distinction become obvious if we consider what it would mean in other contexts. So if the state passed a law extending welfare to adherents of all religions but denied it to those who could “use” some of the money to “promote” their faith. them, almost any court would consider it unconstitutional discrimination. on religious grounds (especially if the recipient remains free to “use” the funds to advance secular purposes). The same logic applies here as well.
Breyer’s dissident argues that the state is merely ensuring that participating private schools provide the same quality as public education. However, as Roberts notes, the Maine program that allows private schools to participate differs from public schools in many ways, including having a variety of curriculums. Only “denominational” schools were systematically excluded.
Under Tuesday’s decision, the state remains free to restrict coupons to schools that do not meet extracurricular standards that apply equally to both religious and secular schools — even if those standards go against it. the beliefs of some of them. For example, it may require receiving schools to teach students the theory of evolution despite the fact that some religious groups reject it. It could also ban funding for schools that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, and sexual orientation, even though some faith traditions support those practices.
Some have argued that any public aid to religious schools violates another part of the First Amendment – the founding clause, which prohibits the state from establishing an “established” church. But non-discrimination between religious and secular establishments is in no way privileged to any particular faith, nor does it imply that the state endorses any denomination’s religious beliefs. or compulsion to follow a certain faith. Parents who do not want their child to attend a religious school can simply choose a secular option.
The conservative majority in the Supreme Court has not always supported the principle of religious non-discrimination. Most especially, it is highly appreciated President Donald Trump’s “no travel” policy targeting migrants and refugees from Muslim countries on the theory that non-discriminatory constraints do not apply to immigration restrictions to the same extent as other policies. But the right way to deal with that contradiction is ending constitutional double standards in immigration policydoes not allow discriminatory policies elsewhere.
In addition to vindicate an important constitutional principle, Carson suing Makin is a potential boon for poor and disadvantaged children. Social science research indicates that the choice of private school is often especially valuable for poor children and ethnic minoritiesand some religious schools – especially Catholic schools – is particularly adept at improving the achievement of disadvantaged students. You don’t have to endorse the religious doctrines of these schools (as an atheist, myself) to realize the valuable opportunities they offer.
The ruling also provides an opportunity to overcome the increasingly divisive culture wars facing education today. In his dissenting view, Breyer argued that majority opinion in Carson could fuel “religious conflict”. But it can really reduce such conflicts. Both red and blue states increasingly seek to impose dogma on a scale suitable for all sponsoring states through their public education systems. School choice that includes a wide range of religious and secular options allows dissidents to go their separate ways and creates valuable competition that parents can capitalize on. Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision will help promote such diversity and beneficial competition.