Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a Maine law that blocked private religious schools from receiving taxpayer-funded aid in Carson v. Makim. This blog expressed concern the state, which had initially opposed such funding, would use the opportunity to regulate religious education.
As we noted in “Why Maine’s religious schools are likely to decline state funding (June 26, 2022), the Maine Attorney General had stated that, “Educational facilities that accept public funds must comply with antidiscrimination provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act, and this would require some religious schools to eliminate their current discriminatory practices.”
Religious schools, by their nature, exist to promote their particular set of religious beliefs over other beliefs in everything ranging from theology to sexuality. At the time, the religious schools referenced in the Supreme Court decision indicated that they would not be accepting state funds under the circumstances.
One year later, a Catholic school, has filed suit, demanding that Maine drop anti-discrimination requirements and restrictions on schools that participate in the taxpayer funding program. The school in St. Dominic Academy v. Makin (filed June 13, 2023) contends that Maine has impermissibly imposed requirements on the schools receiving funding.
According to the Religion Clause blog, the school is suing because Maine, among other things:
- Imposed a new religious neutrality requirement on schools, stating that “to the extent that an educational institution permits religious expression, it cannot discriminate between religions in so doing”;
- Imposed a new religious nondiscrimination requirement on schools; and
- Removed the religious exemption that had previously allowed religious (but “nonsectarian”) schools to handle sensitive issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in a way that reflected their faith commitments….
In short, religious schools can receive government money, so long as they eliminate their religious characteristics.
The idea that state funding of religion should be enshrined as a Free Exercise right runs directly into the buzzsaw of the Establishment Clause.
As we concluded in “A Trojan Horse for the Culture Wars?” on June 21, 2022:
“With external culture wars threatening to break down the doors, religious school administrators and boards who are serious about existing to provide their students with a faith-based foundation should be very intentional about their next steps. Now that state funding schemes are locked in by the Court, those who want to see a change in religious schools will see the money as a Trojan Horse opportunity to change the schools from the inside out. Schools that resist will face tremendous pressure from parents who struggle to pay tuition and will be tempted to take the easy money.”
In time, people of faith may look back at the reluctance of Maine to fund religious schools with a sense of gratitude because, for now, states like Maine are willing to stay out of the business of running religious schools.