U.S. Supreme Court: Government Can’t Discriminate Against Students At Religious Schools

The following is a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom.

Tuesday, Jun 21, 2022

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in Carson v. Makin that the state of Maine cannot exclude students who attend religious schools from a government program in which they are otherwise qualified. Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and Jones Day had argued for that result in a friend-of-the-court brief they filed on behalf of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty.

Maine had prohibited families from using funds from a state tuition program—designed for students who don’t have access to a local public school—at private religious schools that incorporated a curricular faith perspective.

“When the government offers parents school choice, it can’t take away choices that are deemed ‘too religious’ or withhold funds from those who choose religious schools when the state offers those funds to everybody else,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “Today’s decision from the Supreme Court affirms our country’s abiding principle of religious liberty and, importantly, allows Maine parents the freedom to send their children to schools that align with their beliefs.”

The Supreme Court’s decision built upon its previous rulings in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, a case in which ADF attorneys successfully argued before the high court that a state may not discriminate against a religious school in awarding grants to improve playground safety.

“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause,” the high court concluded, emphasizing that this does not mean that a state “must” fund religious education. “But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” And this is true no matter whether the state disqualifies a school because of its religious status or because the school integrates religion into its curriculum. “Any attempt to give effect to such a distinction by scrutinizing whether and how a religious school pursues its educational mission would also raise serious concerns about state entanglement with religion and denominational favoritism.”

ADF attorneys are currently litigating similar cases involving Vermont officials discriminating against religious schools in E.W. v. FrenchA.M. v. French, and A.H. v. French. Jones Day attorneys Yaakov M. Roth, Anthony J. Dick, and Meredith Holland Kessler served as co-counsel for the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Family Council Joins Amicus Brief Filed With U.S. Supreme Court

Last week Family Council joined 14 other pro-family organizations from across the country in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The brief is part of an important lawsuit regarding free speech and religious liberty.

The case — 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — has to do with a Colorado graphic designer named Lorie Smith. Lorie believes that marriage ought to be the union of one man and one woman, but the state is requiring Lorie to create designs that violate her beliefs about marriage.

The situation similar to Colorado baker Jack Phillips’ case from a few years ago.

Lorie’s case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nobody should be forced to say something they don’t believe is true. Everyone should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment. Free speech, the free exercise of religion, and rights of conscience are woven into the very fabric of our nation.

That is part of the reason why Family Council chose to join other pro-family groups in filing an amicus brief in support of Lorie before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The amicus brief notes,

In this case, there is no real question that the petitioner, Lorie Smith, is engaged in speech. She’s a graphic artist, and the court below clearly and unequivocally stated that her “creation of wedding websites was pure speech.” Instead, the question is when and whether a state’s nondiscrimination law can overpower Ms. Smith’s rights of conscience and force her to say things she does not believe. . . .

For this artist, a same-sex union does not represent God’s plan for marriage, and it is thus wrong for her to lend her talents to celebrate a union that her religious beliefs reject. She does not refuse to serve gay customers. She only refuses to use her talents to celebrate or transmit messages that she finds morally objectionable.

The brief goes on to outline past court rulings that affirmed free speech and rights of conscience — and how those rulings should protect Lorie’s right to live and operate her business according to her convictions.

In America, you shouldn’t have to give up your freedoms in order to make a living. Lorie should be able to run her graphic design business without having to violate her conscience.

If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Lorie’s rights, that’s good for everyone.

Oral arguments in the 303 Creative case are expected sometime this fall, and the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling sometime after that.

You can read a copy of the amicus brief Family Council joined here.

Articles appearing on this website are written with the aid of Family Council’s researchers and writers.