Tory judges grill Maine over denial of tuition policy for religious schools

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Amy Coney Barrett, the new Supreme Court justice, asked a Maine state official how he would treat a school that bases its teachings on the ‘Judeo-Palestinian’ conflict on how it considered the Jews.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, meanwhile, has suggested that the state’s school funding policies place an undue burden on Orthodox Jewish parents who send their children to religious schools.

Their questions came Wednesday in a major church-state case challenging Maine’s ban on using public funds for tuition in religious schools.

Church-state separation groups and conservative religious rights groups keep a close watch on Carson v. Makin, saying it could have far-reaching consequences for federal, state and local governments that ban funding for religious education.

Coney Barrett was seeking clarification from Christopher Taub, the state’s deputy chief attorney general. He defended the state’s policy of not paying tuition in religious schools by stating that a state would also not fund schools that teach that a particular religion or all religions are bad.

“How would you know that a school was teaching ‘All religions are fanatical or one-sided’ or ‘Catholics are fanatics’, or, you know,’ we take a stand on the Judeo-Palestinian conflict because of our stance on, you know, Jews, don’t you? ”said Barrett.

Barrett’s hypothesis did not specify what position the school took, or whether its position on the Jews was positive or negative. However, he appeared to equate certain types of anti-religious prejudice with certain attitudes about what is more conventionally referred to as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Barrett, a conservative Catholic, seemed to pick on Maine’s argument that state policy was religiously neutral. She suggested that although religious schools are automatically denied funding, the state should take proactive steps to assess whether non-religious schools teach prejudice.

The question is relevant because Maine’s argument notes that one of the two schools in the lawsuit that was denied funding requires that ninth graders “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of the Word of God “.

Taub’s response was that the state is deeply committed to curricula in public schools and in private schools that receive state-subsidized tuition fees.

Maine is one of two states that allow parents in non-high school districts to use public funds to send their children to a private school rather than taking them by bus to a school in a neighboring district. Religious schools are prohibited from using the funding, and two groups of parents have filed a lawsuit, claiming the practice is unconstitutional.

Jews lined up on opposite sides in the matter. In the memories of friends of the court, the Anti-Defamation League sided with Maine and the Orthodox Union supports parents.

Conservative judges in their questions have repeatedly suggested that the policy places an undue burden on Orthodox Jewish parents.

Gorsuch said one of Maine’s arguments, that religious instruction remains available to parents outside of school at extracurricular facilities or at Sunday school, was offensive to Orthodox Jews.

“For the Orthodox Jewish family it is a burden, and for the Protestant family it would not be,” Gorsuch said.

Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the court’s Liberal minority leader when she died in September last year, just two months before the presidential election.


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