Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined by 23 religious and civil-rights organizations, today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to protect religious freedom and public education by affirming that Maine taxpayers are not required to fund religious education under a state program that uses private schools to provide public education in school districts that do not have their own public high schools.
In an amicus brief filed today in Carson v. Makin, the organizations explain that Maine’s policy of not providing government funding for private religious instruction is in line with long-standing Supreme Court precedent that states can protect their taxpayers’ religious freedom by refraining from funding distinctly religious activities – including religious instruction.
The brief also explains that Maine’s program is not at odds with the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue. In Espinoza, the court ruled that a state violated the U.S. Constitution by excluding religious schools – solely based on their religious status – from a voucher-like tax-credit program that funded private schools. But the court did not rule that states must fund religious instruction. Maine’s program, which state taxpayers are forced to fund, excludes religious instruction, not religious schools, because it is intended to ensure that all the state’s children have access to a secular, public education.
“Church-state separation is the foundational American principle that protects religious freedom for everyone, guaranteeing that all of us are able to live as ourselves and believe as we choose. One of the core reasons our country’s founders enshrined church-state separation in the Constitution was to ensure that taxpayers are not forced to pay for the private religious education of others,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “If the Supreme Court requires Maine to fund religious instruction, it will be the first time the court mandates that taxpayers explicitly pay for religious activities – shamelessly undermining our country’s founding promise.”
Organizations joining the brief are the American Civil Liberties Union; the ACLU of Maine; ADL (Anti-Defamation League); American Humanist Association; Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Catholics for Choice; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; General Synod of the United Church of Christ; Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches; Hindu American Foundation; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Jewish Social Policy Action Network; Men of Reform Judaism; Methodist Federation for Social Action; National Council of Jewish Women; National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; People For the American Way; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; The Sikh Coalition; Texas Impact; Union for Reform Judaism; and Women of Reform Judaism.
AU’s amicus brief in Carson v. Makin is available here.
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.