WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices sounded ready Wednesday to rule for a Maine couple seeking state taxpayer funds to send their children to a church-sponsored school because no public ones are available in their area.
The case of Carson vs. Makin poses the latest test of the line between church and state, and it comes at a time when the court’s conservatives have increasingly sided with religious discrimination claims. Last year, the high court ruled for Montana parents who sought a state scholarship to send their children to a Christian school.
A ruling in favor of the Maine parents could open the door to arguments that states may not exclude private religious charter schools if they also fund nonreligious ones.
The Maine case centers on whether the state can refuse to pay for Christian schools for students who live in rural communities that don’t have a public high school.
For 40 years, the state has said it will pay the cost to send those children to a private school, but not one that is affiliated with a church and teaches religion.
That is “discrimination against religion, and it is unconstitutional,” argued Michael Bindas, an attorney for the Virginia-based Institute for Justice.
The parents “want an education that aligns with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” he said. “This is a school choice program,” and “parents have a constitutional right to send their children to a religious school.”
The three liberal justices objected to his religious-discrimination argument, but none of the six conservatives did so.
“What is the discrimination?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “I think all parents in Maine are given the chance to send their children to free public secular schools. That’s what they’re promised.”
But Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said the discrimination was obvious.