Carson v. Makin: A Trilogy of Cases Protecting Religious Liberty, Completed

Carson v. Makin: A Trilogy of Cases Protecting Religious Liberty, Completed

Written by John A. Sparks |
Wednesday, July 13, 2022

These three cases, because they widen the spectrum of parental educational choice, are especially important. Regrettably, many public schools and their boards have allowed their schools to drift into instruction that parents increasingly find runs counter to their convictions and values. This decision recognizes that parents desire and ought to have real educational alternatives.

In 2017, the Supreme Court decided a case that involved a school playground resurfacing program provided by the state of Missouri. Trinity Lutheran School sought a state grant, which was generally offered to other schools, but Trinity was denied funding solely because it was a religious school. The Supreme Court found in favor of the school, saying that it had every right, under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, to participate in a government benefit program without giving up its religious affiliation.

In 2020, the high court continued efforts to return the free exercise clause to the strength the Americans founders intended. The case was Espinoza vMontanaMontana gave tax credits to donors who created scholarships for private schools, but the state refused to allow parents who received scholarships to put them toward tuition at religious schools. The Supreme Court found against Montana, saying that requiring a school “to divorce itself from any religious control or affiliation” in order to obtain the scholarship monies “deters or discourages the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Now the new decision in Carson v. Makin, the third case in that trilogy of cases, again finds that a state-instituted program (this time in Maine) which “operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise” violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Here are the details: The state of Maine is the most rural state in the union. In some school districts, that resulted in too few students to financially justify the existence of a public secondary school. Consequently, Maine permitted those districts to provide a program of “tuition assistance” to families in those locations. One of the options open to parents was to choose a private school to which the publicly provided tuition monies would be sent. The Carson family and another family chose religious schools to which to send their children (Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy) because they lived in districts where no public secondary school existed and desired religious instruction as part of their children’s education.

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