Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

FFRF vouches for Maine’s school funding program

Vol. 38 No. 09 November 2021

In a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court, FFRF has delivered an amicus brief siding with the state of Maine on its refusal to use taxpayer money to fund religious education and proselytization through the state’s school funding program.

A year ago, the case of Carson v. Makin case was decided in favor of Maine by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling has been appealed and now heads to the Supreme Court.

FFRF’s brief states: “This court should not undo the Maine Legislature’s decision not to subsidize sectarian education. Neither the parents seeking public money, nor the religious schools, have a right to taxpayer funds, directly or indirectly. The state’s decision is the only path consistent with fundamental principles of religious liberty.”

In its decision on Oct. 29, 2020, the 1st Circuit concluded that even in light of precedent established in the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza, the plaintiffs in Carson v. Makin could not successfully challenge Maine’s requirement that its tuition assistance program fund only “nonsectarian” education. Simply put, the decision stated that the “nonsectarian” requirement did not exclude religious schools based on their religious status, but rather protected the state’s interest in only supporting education that was itself nonreligious. Thus, schools are excluded from Maine’s program not based upon what they are or what they believe, but solely based on what they propose to do with the state’s money.

If the Supreme Court would reverse the circuit court’s ruling, FFRF writes, “Minority religious and nonreligious citizens would be immediately coerced into subsidizing religious education with which they fundamentally disagree. . . . If they begin receiving state funding, religious schools will likely be subjected to the state regulation that must necessarily follow — although they may well fight in court for the special privilege of receiving state funding without the concomitant oversight, in which case it will be the students who suffer most.”

Back in November 2019, FFRF had filed a similar amicus brief arguing that Maine’s existing distinction between religious and secular private schools protects religious liberty by ensuring that Maine taxpayers are not compelled to support a religion that is not their own.

“The constitutional prohibition on states taxing citizens for the benefit of religion, directly or indirectly, guarantees religious liberty for all,” the brief stated. 

The 1st Circuit agreed with FFRF.

“Maine’s Constitution instructs the state’s Legislature to ensure that its local institutions have the means to provide the benefits of a free public education to their children,” the circuit court’s decision stated.

Despite the long-established, foundational nature of this constitutional principle, the Supreme Court has telegraphed its intentions to undermine it. 

FFRF will be closely monitoring the Carson v. Makin case as it heads to oral argument later this year.