BOSTON – PioneerLegal applauds today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin striking down a Maine law that allows districts without their own public schools to contract with or reimburse the families of students who attend private or public schools located elsewhere, but which explicitly excludes religious schools.
Two years ago, in the 2020 decision, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that, “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
“While the Maine law allowed parents to access the public or private education that best suits their children,” said PioneerLegal President Frank J. Bailey, “its exclusion of religious schools clearly could not pass constitutional muster after Espinoza.”
Again writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts found that the “unremarkable” principles in Espinoza suffice to resolve this case and that for the Court to “accept Maine’s argument, our decision in Espinoza would be rendered meaningless.” Bailey also noted that “a law, such as the one at issue in Carson, that targets religious education will rarely satisfy strict scrutiny analysis.”
For over a century, until the early 1980s, religiously affiliated schools were included in the Maine school choice program. The Maine Legislature re-codified the program in 1982 to prohibit parents and students from using the law to access religious schools, as was the intention when it was passed in 1873.
“We are thrilled that the law will once again reflect the intent of those who enacted it, as it did for over a century,” said Jamie Gass, Pioneer Institute’s director of school reform. “This ruling will restore educational opportunity to families across rural Maine.”
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