June 25, 2022

Mark Joseph Stern: The Supreme Court Just Forced Maine to Fund Religious Education. It Won’t Stop There.

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Writing for Slate, Mark Joseph Stern looks at the far-ranging implications of Carson, and finds Roberts taking a “radical theory to a new extreme.”

The upshot of Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the court is that states have no compelling interest in providing public, secular education to children. Indeed, Roberts suggests that the very concept of secular schooling is a smokescreen for “discrimination against religion”—a pretext for unconstitutional animus toward pious Americans. His opinion reaches far beyond Maine. ..

It’s worth pausing, as both Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor did in dissent, to reflect on the victims of Tuesday’s decision. The two Maine schools that may now receive public funding are openly discriminatory, expelling students and teachers who do not adhere to evangelical Christianity. LGBTQ students, as well as straight children of same-sex couples, are not welcome, nor are LGBTQ teachers. Even custodians must be born-again Christians. One school teaches students to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion” and believe that men serve as the head of the household. Another requires students to sign a “covenant” promising to glorify Jesus Christ and attend weekly religious services.

“Legislators,” Breyer wrote, “did not want Maine taxpayers to pay for these religiously based practices,” as doing so might violate their own faith or conscience. The majority tells these Mainers their own views don’t matter, because the First Amendment forces them to foot the bill for other people’s religious indoctrination. Doing so creates a “serious risk of religion-based social divisions,” Breyer explained, exacerbating the “religious strife” that the religion clauses “were designed to prevent.” Sotomayor put the point more sharply: “While purporting to protect against discrimination of one kind,” she wrote, “the court requires Maine to fund what many of its citizens believe to be discrimination of other kinds.”

The conservative majority, however, has perfected the art of ignoring genuine discrimination while perceiving anti-Christian persecution where none exists. In the process, they are elevating the rights of one sect over all others. Carson will not benefit any religious minorities; there are not enough Muslims or Jews to create a school in the far-flung corners of Maine. Every time Roberts uses the word “religion,” he might as well be saying “Christian.” The right will praise Carson as a triumph of religious liberty. But if you practice a religion that does not stand to gain from the ruling, your liberty does not matter to this Supreme Court.

Read the full piece here.Mar


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