WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended its support for religious schools, ruling that parents who send their children to these institutions have a right to tuition aid if the state provides it to similar private schools.
The 6-3 decision in the Carson vs. Makin case from Maine could open the door to including religious schools among the charter schools that are privately run but publicly financed.
Previously the high court had said that giving public funds to church schools violated the First Amendment’s ban on an “establishment of religion.”
But over the last five years, the court’s conservative majority has flipped the equation and ruled it is unconstitutional discrimination to deny public funds to church schools simply because they are religious.
Maine has an unusual subsidy program because many of its small towns do not have a public high school. In such cases, students may enroll in a private school and the state pays their tuition.
Since 1980, however, the state has not extended these subsidies to students in church schools, apparently concerned it would be unconstitutional to do so.
The court majority said Tuesday that was a mistake.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that discrimination based on religion “was odious to our Constitution and could not stand.”
“The state pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” he said, and thereby violates the First Amendment’s protection for the “free exercise of religion.”
In dissent, the three liberal justices accused the majority of knocking down the barriers against government support for religion.