Student Aid, Religious Education, and the First Amendment

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This week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Carson v. Makin, which centers around the free exercise clause, and public funding for religious education.

The issue is whether a state—in this case, Maine, violates the First Amendment by prohibiting students participating in an otherwise generally available student-aid program from choosing to use their aid to attend schools that provide religious, or “sectarian,” instruction.

In Maine, not all school districts have their own public secondary schools. For students in those districts, the state will pay for them to attend private high schools— unless the private school has a religious affiliation. The petitioners in this case are parents who are seeking that state funding for their son to attend a religious private school. 

Host Jeffrey Rosen is joined by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and co-author of The Religion Clauses: The Case for Separating Church and State, and Michael McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law at Stanford, and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. They discuss the history of religious schooling and public funding in America under the Constitution, including from the founding onward; what historical precedent means for how to understand and interpret the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment; and how the Court might rule in the case.

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