Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Fast Forward

Conservative justices grill Maine on policy denying tuition for religious schools

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Amy Coney Barrett, the newest justice on the Supreme Court, asked a Maine state official how he would treat a school that based its teachings about the “Jewish-Palestinian” conflict on how it regarded Jews.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, meanwhile, suggested the state’s school-funding policies poses an undue burden on Orthodox Jewish parents who send their children to religious day schools.

Their questions came Wednesday in an important church-state case challenging Maine’s ban on the use of state funds for tuition at religious schools.

Church-state separation groups and conservative religious advocacy groups alike are closely watching Carson v. Makin, saying it could have far-reaching consequences for federal, state and local governments that ban funding for religious instruction.

Coney Barrett was seeking a clarification from Christopher Taub, the state’s chief deputy attorney general. He defended the state’s policy of not paying for tuitions at religious schools by saying that a state would also not fund schools that teach that a particular religion or all religions are bad.

“How would you even know if a school taught ‘All religions are bigoted or biased’ or ‘Catholics are bigoted’, or, you know, ‘we take a position on the Jewish-Palestinian conflict because of our position on, you know, Jews,’ right?” Barrett said.

Barrett’s hypothetical did not specify which position the school was taking, nor if its position on Jews was positive or negative. It did, however, seem to equate certain kinds of anti-religious bias with certain attitudes on what is more conventionally referred to as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Barrett, a Catholic conservative, appeared to be picking at Maine’s argument that the state’s policy was religion-neutral. She suggested that while religious schools are automatically denied the funding, the state would have to take proactive measures to assess whether non-religious schools are teaching bias.

The question is relevant because Maine’s argument notes that one of the two schools in the lawsuit that was denied funding requires ninth graders to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of God’s Word.”

Taub’s response was that the state is deeply engaged with the curricula in public schools and in the private schools that receive state-subsidized tuitions.

Maine is one of two states that allows parents in districts without a high school to use state funds to send their children to a private school rather than bus them to a school in a neighboring district. Religious schools are banned from using the funding, and two sets of parents have sued, saying the practice is unconstitutional.

Jewish have lined up on opposite sides in the case. In friend-of-the-court briefs, the Anti-Defamation League sided with Maine and the Orthodox Union supports the parents.

The conservative justices in their questions several times suggested the policy poses an undue burden on Orthodox Jewish parents.

Gorsuch said that one of Maine’s arguments, that religious instruction remains available to parents outside the school framework in after-school or Sunday school settings, was offensive to Orthodox Jews.

“To the Orthodox Jewish family it is a burden, and to the Protestant family it would not be,” Gorsuch said.

Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the leader of the court’s liberal minority when she died in September last year, just two months before the presidential election.


The post Conservative justices grill Maine on policy denying tuition for religious schools appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.