The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Maine’s tuition program allowing state funds to go only to nonreligious schools runs afoul of the First Amendment.
In a 6-3 ruling, the high court said Maine’s program for transferring state money to secondary schools of a parents’ choice must include religious schooling options since the publicly available funds are allowed to go to other private schools.
“We have repeatedly held that a State violates the Free Exercise Clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits,” Chief Justice John G. Robers Jr. wrote for the court.
He was joined by the court’s other five Republican-appointed justices — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The court’s three liberal justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — dissented, saying they would have sided with Maine.
The high court weighed the legality of Maine’s school voucher program and whether state funds could be used to attend private religious schools. Maine had only allowed nonsectarian schools as part of the program.
The case in question involved three small Maine towns without public schools of their own where the local school district offered high school tuition payments for students to attend the public or private secondary schools elsewhere in the state.
Two families challenged a state law that prohibits those towns from paying tuition on behalf of families who choose religious schools that would otherwise qualify under the program’s guidelines.