Three families are suing Maine to require the state to pay tuition to the religious school of their choice. These families and the First Liberty Institute, the Christian Nationalist quasi-law firm defending them, believe freedom of religion includes forcing the state to finance religious education.

However, freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. It is impossible to have one without the other. Freedom of religion prohibits states from using public tax dollars to pay for religious school tuitions. Doing so would violate Maine taxpayers’ freedom from religion by requiring them to support a religion not of their own choosing. Where then would their religious freedom be?

Maine will pay public and private secular school tuition for students living in towns without public schools. Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey outlined the state’s policy: “Instruction that inculcates, instills, imbues a religious view through its materials, through its teachings, prescribing that there’s one religion above others and that there are certain ways of the world that are consistent with that religion … contradicts a public education.”

However, forcing Maine to pay religious school tuition is not the ultimate goal here; establishing America as a Christian nation with a Constitutional amendment is. Other Christian-based agenda items include creating Bible-based laws everyone must follow, ending a woman’s right to choose, putting Christian prayer back in public schools, and displaying Christian iconography on public property.

The Supreme Court’s role is to enforce the Constitution. Deciding Maine cannot use public funds to pay for religious education would be consistent with the Establishment Clause.

But will they? Not likely. The primary reason the Supreme Court agreed to hear the frivolous, unsubstantiated claims in this case is it provides the six Christian conservatives on the court with an opportunity to advance their agenda, which has been building since at least 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan.

Advertisement

About 40 years ago, Paul Weyrich, founder of the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and the Moral Majority, got Reagan elected to advance the Christian Nationalists’ agenda. However, since Christian Nationalists need to be elected to state and federal positions to attain these goals, and Weyrich noticed when the voting population went up, electing Christian conservatives went down, he advocated for voter suppression, now a core conservative strategy for winning elections. Weyrich also opposed secular schools because they indoctrinate students in the secular religion of atheism.

Christian fundamentalists developed a worldview that divides the religious world into two categories: theirs and all the others. They regard their religion as the one true religion and all others, including mainstream religions, as teaching the religion of atheism. Viewing atheism as a religion is essential to understanding the Christian Nationalists’ sociopolitical agenda. The families suing Maine argue that since Maine will pay tuition to private secular schools that teach the religion of atheism, the state is discriminating against them by not paying tuition to schools that teach the Christian faith.

All indications are the Supreme Court agrees with that argument. But deciding for the plaintiffs does not automatically mean Maine must pay religious school tuition. Maine can avoid paying religious school tuition by no longer subsidizing private schools. Court precedents do not require states to pay for religious education, but if they choose to pay for private education, they cannot discriminate against private religious schools.

No matter what Maine decides, the state will be in a bind. Not paying for private schools will raise the ire of parents with children in those schools. If Maine elects to continue paying private school tuition, the state will also have to pay for religious school tuition. By paying all private school tuition, Maine will endorse the fundamentalist religious school’s anti-LGBT hate speech and violate the state’s Human Rights Commission Policy.

If the plaintiffs win, it won’t be long before they apply the same argument requiring Maine to teach Christianity in public schools. They will claim that since the state teaches atheism in public schools, it discriminates against Christians when the public doesn’t teach Christianity.

The Supreme Court would likely decide for the plaintiffs in this hypothetical case, but with one caveat. Since just mandating public schools teach Christianity would violate the governmental requirement of neutrality in religious issues, the court is likely to require public schools to teach all religions. Think about that.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected] and https://ffrfmaine.org.

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.