The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance program that allows parents to use vouchers to send their children to public or private schools.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the conservative majority that the tuition program violated the free exercise clause of the first amendment to the US constitution, because it said private schools were “eligible to receive the payments, so long as they were ‘nonsectarian’”.
Roberts wrote, “Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”
In a dissent to the ruling, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “This court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the framers fought to build.
“… In just a few years, the court has upended constitutional doctrine, shifting from a rule that permits states to decline to fund religious organisations to one that requires states in many circumstances to subsidise religious indoctrination with taxpayer dollars.”
“What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the court was ‘leading us … to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment’.
“Today, the court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a state cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any state that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens.
“With growing concern for where this court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.”
The primary dissent was written by Stephen Breyer, who will soon retire and be replaced by Ketanji Brown Jackson.