Celebrating Two Huge Victories for Religious Schools in Maine and Puerto Rico

June 23, 2023
School SCOTUS Victories | First Liberty Institute

by Ethan Tong • 5 min read

In June, we’re celebrating our seven Supreme Court victories that are providing lasting religious freedom for all Americans.

This week in our Supreme Victory series, we remember not one, but two victories for religious schools in Maine and Puerto Rico. These cases resulted in huge wins for religious education, as well as the independence and equal treatment of religious organizations.

This past summer, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious families in our Treat Children Fairly case, Carson v. Makin. The main question in Carson was whether families who wanted to send their children to religious schools could be singled out for unfavorable treatment. The Court answered with a resounding “No!”

For more than 40 years, Maine had in place a discriminatory law that banned families from a generally available tuition program simply because they chose to send their children to religious schools.

On behalf of three families, First Liberty and our friends at the Institute for Justice took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that law violated the First Amendment. On June 21, 2022, the Court ruled 6-3 that Maine’s law was unconstitutional. The Court held that withholding aid from schools because they were religious was plainly discriminatory.

That victory wasn’t just for three families. In fact, it wasn’t even just for Maine families. The victory benefits all American families.

Many parents are concerned about the direction in which the public school systems are heading. Between Christian clubs being banned, student speech being censored, and harmful ideologies being forced upon young children, parents are increasingly looking for options. That’s exactly why the Carson decision is so momentous. States are required to treat religious schools the same as their secular counterparts. That means if your state offers government funds for private education, then you can apply for those benefits and not face discrimination for choosing a religious school.

Because of this ruling, the discriminatory “Blaine Amendments” found in more than 30 state constitutions are further undermined. These provisions prohibit public funds from flowing to religious schools. That means there’s now even greater educational opportunity and freedom for your children and grandchildren.

Our Treat Children Fairly case wasn’t just a win for religious education. It also established a strong precedent that the government cannot discriminate and deny otherwise equally available governmental benefits to Americans and organizations simply because they are religious.

Protecting Autonomy for Churches and Religious Schools

In addition to Treat Children Fairly, First Liberty secured a Supreme Court victory for two Catholic schools in Puerto Rico, Academia del Perpetuo Socorro and Academia San José.

The case involved the right of churches, religious organizations, and schools to independently choose their own structure. For decades, these schools were legally independent, managing their own affairs without having to affiliate with any particular church. However, Puerto Rico’s highest court issued a troubling ruling denying the legal existence of these two Catholic schools. It directed them on how to organize and manage their affairs, a clear violation of the First Amendment and the church autonomy doctrine.

We challenged this at the U.S. Supreme Court. In February 2020, we won when the Supreme Court vacated the decision by Puerto Rico’s court and sent the case back for further review. It was an important victory affirming the Constitution protects the independence of religious organizations to structure their affairs without unlawful government intrusion.

These two victories were only possible thanks to your support. We defend everyday Americans, organizations and schools free of charge because of your generosity. We couldn’t do this without you!

As we continue to celebrate, can we count on your ongoing support? We’re closing out our fiscal year this month, and any gift you make between now and June 30th has a multiplied impact thanks to a special $350,000 Challenge Grant!

With your help, our attorneys continue defending and delivering victories for individual Americans—and for the nation as a whole.

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