In Carson v. Makin, the Future of Public Schools is at Stake

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In communities across the country, our public schools are entrusted with the development and well-being of children from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Their open doors bring students together in one place where all are welcome and none are turned away. Public schools depend on robust funding to ensure they can meet the needs of every child that walks through their doors. But an upcoming Supreme Court case could jeopardize public school funding, requiring states to use taxpayer dollars to pay for private, religious education.

States could be required to fund explicitly religious education.

On Wednesday, December 8, 2021, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Carson v. Makin, a case that could require states to allow taxpayer funds to be used for education that is explicitly religious in nature. In rural parts of Maine, some school districts have so few students and resources that they are unable to operate their own public secondary schools. In these areas, the state pays for students to attend private school so they can have access to education. These funds, however, cannot be used for religious instruction. 

But a group of parents sued the state of Maine, arguing that these restrictions violate the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free exercise of religion, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. This past year, the Court held in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue that states cannot categorically exclude religious schools simply because of their religious status. But a ruling in favor of the Maine parents would go one step further, requiring states pay for education that is explicitly religious in nature with taxpayer funds. Interfaith Alliance joined 23 faith-based and civil rights partners in an amicus brief urging the Court to protect the separation of religion and government in school funding. Read our brief.

Funding religious education threatens public schools – now and for the future.

For many families, religion plays a central role in home and community life. While parents may choose a religious education for their child, they cannot insist that it be paid for by neighbors who may or may not share their religious beliefs. Redirecting public dollars to fund explicitly religious education violates the First Amendment, eroding the necessary separation between religion and government. 

At a time when public schools are adapting to support students through a public health crisis, we must keep public funds in public schools and out of private, religious alternatives. Doing so will help preserve public schools for the future as spaces where students of all backgrounds and abilities can thrive. 

Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to keep public funds in public schools.