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The US Supreme Court votes to grant public funding to religious schools in the state of Maine

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The seat of the United States Supreme Court in Washington in a 2018 image.Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)

Public funds for religious schools. The ultra-conservative turn of the United States Supreme Court took a new turn on Tuesday, ruling in favor of two Christian Maine families who had denounced a public scholarship program excluding religious ideology private schools. It is the umpteenth High Court ruling on religious rights since President Donald Trump shaped the composition of the court in his image and that of the most conservative half of the country. Polarization is being noticed more and more every day in the USA, also in the laws.

In a decision by six votes in favor and three against – those of the court’s three Liberal members – the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a lower court that had dismissed allegations of religious discrimination against the two families, which they were examining at the prevent the free exercise of religion enshrined in the First Amendment. Judge Sonia Sotomayor, perhaps the most liberal of the progressive minority, has accused the six-strong conservative majority of undermining the separation of church and state. “This court continues to break down the barrier between church and state that the drafters of the constitution fought to erect,” Sotomayor said.

Maine’s decision builds on a 2020 Supreme Court ruling in a similar case from Montana that paved the way for religious schools to receive taxpayer money. Historically, Maine has provided public funding as a grant to private high schools for families living in sparsely populated areas of the state with no public amenities. The condition for these institutions to receive such assistance was that the educational program be non-denominational, leaving resources unavailable to those who promote a particular religion and design their curricula “through the lens of that faith.” The theory of creationism is in open contradiction to scientific Darwinism, to cite just one example.

Observers note that the Supreme Court’s conservatism is becoming increasingly assertive and blatant, particularly regarding the priority of expanding rights related to religious practice. Since the Trump presidency, whose electoral base was based among others on the most conservative Christians, judges have been particularly susceptible to complaints from Christian radicals about the government’s alleged anti-religious attitudes, and not only in the educational context. The long-awaited abortion ruling in which the Supreme Court is likely to overturn the cornerstone of its constitutional protection doctrine Deer vs Wadeis another sign of a conservative bias.

The Montana verdict, which is believed to set precedent for the verdict known today, received a stronger appeal, with five votes in favor and four against. The Supreme Court upheld a tax incentive program for donors to a scholarship fund that provided tuition money to Christian schools. The outcome of that vote is easy to explain: It happened in late July 2020, months before Trump, in the final phase of his presidency, selected ultraconservative Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the death of progressive Ruth Bader-Ginsburg. With the appointment of Barrett, Republicans completed the conservative turn of the Supreme Court.

However, the Montana and Maine rulings reveal the perceived contradiction between ensuring freedom of worship and another core element of the First Amendment: the separation of church and state, which prohibits the government from appointing a religious officer or favoring one religion over another.

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