Religious Education: Some States Move in Positive Direction, Others Remain Hostile

March 22, 2024
Religious Education | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read

Great news for religious parents and families in New Hampshire. The state just took a step in the right direction which will help end religious discrimination against faith-based schools.

More than 35 states have Blaine Amendments, which ban taxpayer funding to “sectarian” schools. These legal provisions have been in place since the 19th century and were created to disfavor Catholic education.

The Granite State’s Legislature, however, recently enacted legislation to remove the words “sectarian” and “nonsectarian” from its lawbooks. By doing this, it effectively eliminated laws that unconstitutionally discriminate against religious organizations.

Manhattan Institute fellows Tim Rosenberger and Nicole Stelle Garnett explain further:

“By removing the requirement that services provided in public programs be ‘nonsectarian,’ New Hampshire has broadened the opportunities for the state to cooperate with faith-based organizations and brought its law in line with current First Amendment doctrine. These efforts signal the state’s desire to honor the Free Exercise Clause and ensure that its laws conform to constitutional principles.”

New Hampshire’s action comes as a result of several major Supreme Court rulings that have restored the rights of religious schools and protected faith-based education programs across America. Those include Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and First Liberty’s “Treat Children Fairly” case, Carson v. Makin. Combined, these emphasize that the First Amendment demands the equal treatment of religious institutions and believers.

But other states haven’t gotten the memo. In some cases, they appear to be circumventing the nation’s highest court.

Look at the way California is illegally discriminating against three of our clients: the Woolard, Gonzales, and Dodson families. They homeschool their children through charter school programs that provide each student with funds the parents can use for curricula and educational materials; that is, unless the parents choose curricula from a religious publisher. They are being told that because of their commitment to educate their children according to their faith, they can’t participate in a program that’s available to everyone else. One family was expelled from a charter school, because they wanted to select a religious curriculum.

We filed a federal lawsuit last fall against the California Department of Education to make sure state officials follow the law and Supreme Court precedent.

“The culture of California is one of not being supportive of people of faith,” First Liberty Deputy General Counsel Justin Butterfield told The Center Square. “Some charter schools are even saying students are not allowed to mention their faith in their assignments, something that has repeatedly been held to be unconstitutional.”

Butterfield explains that California state law and the California constitution still have Blaine Amendments in place, and that religion is “not an area of diversity they like in California.”

Religious schools in Maine are facing similar discrimination. Officials in that state passed a law that won’t let our client—Bangor Christian Schools—participate in the state tuition program unless it compromises its religious beliefs. We’re also fighting this case in federal court.

Maine officials have repeatedly shown anti-religious bias toward our client. At one point, Maine’s Attorney General issued a statement targeting Bangor Christian, expressing extreme hostility to its religious beliefs and vowing to exclude the school from the state program. A prior Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives posted a hostile Tweet asserting that they’d changed the law in order to evade the Supreme Court ruling.

Our Supreme Court victory was crucial. Many states are moving in a positive way for religious freedom and education. But our work is not finished.

Clients like Bangor Christian and the Woolard, Gonzales, and Dodson families are still counting on your support. Religious schools should be treated the same as everyone else, and families should be free to choose the educational option that’s best for them without government interference.

Please donate to First Liberty today.

Learn More:

First Liberty: Which States are Advancing Bills to Help Protect Religious Freedom?

First Liberty: States and Federal Agencies Continue String of Positive Actions for Religious Freedom

First Liberty: New Study: Religious Discrimination ‘Runs Rampant’ in State Education Programs

First Liberty: Minnesota Moms Will Get to Choose What Their Kids Learn in School

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