The overtly pious Justices placed on today’s Supreme Court by Mitch McConnell aren’t likely to stop imposing their religious beliefs with their decision to overrule Roe v. Wade. Multiple observers have warned that we are dealing with religious zealots intent upon enforcing their vision of Christian Nationalism–a vision that goes well beyond the effort to put women in our “proper” (i.e., subservient) place.
This is a Court that has bent over backwards to elevate religion– especially conservative Christian religion.
If we look at the Court’s “pipeline,” we can see that the hits are likely to continue coming. I’ve posted previously about the case of the public school coach who wants to lead prayer on the fifty-yard line, and the fact that, during oral argument, the Justices seemed inclined to allow him to do so. But that’s not the only vehicle available to a Court intent upon empowering their particular version of Christianity.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed ready to take another step in requiring states to pay for religious education, with a majority of the justices indicating that they would not allow Maine to exclude religious schools from a state tuition program.
The court has said that states may choose to provide aid to religious schools along with other private schools. The question in the new case was the opposite: Can states refuse to provide such aid if it is made available to other private schools?
The State of Maine has a number of rural communities that do not have public secondary schools. Maine law requires those communities to send young residents elsewhere for their education, and to do so in one of two ways:’ They can sign contracts with nearby public schools, or they can pay tuition at a private school chosen by the student’s parents so long as it is, “a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
This case arose when two families in Maine challenged that law. The parents want to send their children to religious schools, and they argue that the state’s refusal to spend tax dollars to allow them to do so violates their right to the free exercise of their faith.
As Liptak noted, religious litigants have found the current court to be very hospitable to their arguments.
Religious people and groups have been on a winning streak at the Supreme Court, which seemed likely to continue in the new case. In recent decisions, the justices have ruled against restrictions on attendance at religious gatherings to address the coronavirus pandemic and Philadelphia’s attempt to bar a Catholic agency that refused to work with same-sex couples from screening potential foster parents.
The court also ruled that the Trump administration could allow employers with religious objections to deny contraception coverage to female workers and that employment discrimination laws do not apply to many teachers at religious schools
The likely precedent for this decision is a case called Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In that case, the Court found that a provision of the state’s Constitution banning aid to schools run by churches ran afoul of the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause, by discriminating against religious people and schools. Writing for the majority, John Roberts held that a state need not subsidize private education–but that once it decides to do so, “it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
That is fair enough. It is also why privatization efforts like Indiana’s voucher program–which bleed resources from public education in order to send tax dollars to private schools–are so dangerous and socially divisive. In Indiana, some ninety percent of voucher students attend religious schools (schools that have not, by the way, improved the academic performance of those students.)
Plaintiffs freely acknowledged that the curricula of these religious schools is divisive and discriminatory.
One of the schools at issue in the case, Temple Academy in Waterville, Maine, says it expects its teachers “to integrate biblical principles with their teaching in every subject” and teaches students “to spread the word of Christianity.” The other, Bangor Christian School, says it seeks to develop “within each student a Christian worldview and Christian philosophy of life.”
The two schools “candidly admit that they discriminate against homosexuals, individuals who are transgender and non-Christians,” Maine’s Supreme Court brief said.
Justice Elena Kagan wanted to know why taxpayers should fund “proudly discriminatory” schools. The answer, evidently, is that six judges on this Supreme Court believe that when discrimination is required by Christian theology, it is entitled to special deference.
I somehow doubt that a Satanic school–or even a Muslim or Jewish one– would receive that same deference….