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Supreme Court Poised to Hear Religious Rights Case

November 19th, 2021

A Tennessee school district is being sued for promoting religion, including forced Christian prayer, thereby violating the separation of church and state.
In a religious rights case coming before the Supreme Court, the conservative majority will most likely further entrench government support of religion.

In a major religious rights case about to be heard by the United States Supreme Court, a conservative-dominated court might move American law even further in support of religion. A current trend in the court is towards increased religious liberty rights. This case traces back to the 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling, which ruled in favor of letting private businesses claim exemptions from health care laws that they claim infringed on their religious beliefs. In the June 2021 Fulton decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a religious charity that was excluded from the City of Philadelphia’s adoption program after the organization declined to offer its services to same-sex couples who wanted to adopt or foster a child.

Many of the recent Supreme Court decisions that expanded religious liberty only saw dissent from the court’s two most liberal justices. After the passing of Justice Ginsberg, Justice Sotomayor is currently the only sitting liberal justice. 

When religion mixes with public education, the court’s divide is even more profound. In 2020, five justices struck down the exclusion of a tax credit for private school tuition when applied to a religious school. The court argued that if a state offers a benefit involving private secular schools, it cannot decline the same advantages to parents who select religious schools.

The Pending Religious Rights Case

Later this year, the Supreme Court must determine if the same principle applied in a scholarship setting also applies on a larger scale. Maine has many communities that do not have nearby public schools and reimburses a student’s tuition to attend private schools. Maine does not pay the same tuition for private religious schools. 

The case, Carson v. Makin, will task the Supreme Court with deciding if a state can decline a public benefit on the basis that it will be used to pay for explicitly religious instruction or whether the First Amendment demands entirely equal financial treatment of both religious and secular private schools.

Parents in Maine challenged the exclusion in federal court, but the federal court, as well as the appellate court, ruled against the parents. Later, the parents requested that the Supreme Court hear the case. The parents argue that Maine’s selectiveness in refusing religious schools is unconstitutional and that a government posting of a “no religious choices or entities permitted” sign violates both the Equal Protection Clause and the religion and speech clause of the First Amendment. 

The Institute for Justice represents the two families challenging the exclusion. Legal counsel in support of the parents argues that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the Government from imposing religious-based restrictions on the personal decisions of citizens. A decision in this religious rights case is expected when the term ends next year, but it will almost assuredly be in favor of the families challenging the provision in Maine law.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

Many of the laws addressing religious rights in the United States originate with the Constitution and the founding of the country. In the last few years, however, the concept of religious liberty has been tested in countless ways. By reading the Universal Life Church’s blog, you can remain up to date with these cases. We strive to document matters in a way that objectively examines both sides.

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