Next term: court to open religious schools, reject wedding florist

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WASHINGTON (CNS) – The day after the publication of its final opinions for the current term, the Supreme Court announced that it was dealing with one religious rights case and dismissed another for its next term.

The two cases appear somewhat familiar based on previous court rulings.

One of 10 new cases the court announced on July 2 it will hear concerns parents in Maine who want to use a state schooling program to send their children to religious schools.

The case the judges are not taking – a case that has already caught the attention of forensic observers – is a challenge to Washington state anti-discrimination law by a florist who refused to take arrangements for same-sex marriage.

The Maine School Case, Carson v. Makin, challenges a state education department rule that allows families living in towns without public schools to receive public funds to send their children to another public or private school, but it excludes religious schools .

Two groups of parents who were prevented from using state funds to send their children to Christian schools in the state took their case to federal court, arguing the program violated their constitutional rights.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld the program, saying religious schools were excluded because funds could be spent on religious education.

In a similar case last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue states are not required to subsidize private education, but they cannot exclude religious schools from receiving funds for tuition fees simply because they are religious.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the Espinoza decision, which they said “means that religious individuals and organizations can, like everyone else, participate in government programs that are open to all.”

The Maine case, which will be debated in the fall, examines an unresolved question in the Espinoza case: Is a state violating the Constitution with a program that provides students with money? to attend private schools but banned them from attending schools that provide religious education?

John Bursch, senior lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, said he was delighted the court would take the case. “The government cannot discriminate against people of faith who wish to act consistently with that faith in all areas of their lives,” he said in a July 2 statement.

He hopes the court will build on its earlier rulings in the Espinoza case and the 2017 Trinity Lutheran case regarding funding for playground resurfacing, where the court said governments cannot discriminate against churches eligible for funding.

These decisions, he said, “made it clear that states cannot foreclose parents and children from a generally available benefit program simply because they choose a private religious school.”

Aaron Frey, Democratic Attorney General of Maine, defended the current program, saying religious schools have been excluded from public tuition “because the education they provide is not equivalent to” public schools.

“Parents are free to send their children to such schools if they wish, but not with public funds,” he said in a statement reported by The Associated Press.

“I am convinced that the Supreme Court will recognize that nothing in the Constitution obliges Maine to include religious schools in its public education system,” he added.

On the same day, the country’s High Court said it was dealing with the school case, it announced, without comment, that it would not take up the wedding florist’s case.

Only Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch have said they would have taken the case, leaving the court one vote less than the number it needs to proceed.

By not taking it, the court leaves in place a ruling against the florist found in violation of Washington anti-discrimination laws by the state Supreme Court for her refusal to make a flower arrangement for a couple’s wedding. same sex in 2013. She said making the arrangement for the couple would go against her religious beliefs about marriage.

The florist’s case echoes the Supreme Court ruling in 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop, where it issued a restrictive ruling in favor of the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage he said would violate his religious beliefs.

The florist’s case, which had already been taken to the Supreme Court, was sent back to state courts for reconsideration after the Masterpiece decision.

In 2019, the state court ruled again against the florist, saying she did not have the constitutional right to discriminate and that religious prejudice had not played a role in that decision.

The case before the United States Supreme Court reportedly addressed a question that the Masterpiece case did not answer: Is the state violating an artist’s First Amendment rights by requiring the creation of custom art for same-sex weddings?

After pleading in the Colorado Baker case, the chairs of three USCCB committees said they hoped the court “would preserve the ability of people to live their faith in everyday life, regardless of their profession.” ”, Noting that artists“ deserve the freedom to express ideas – or refuse to create certain messages – in accordance with their deeply held beliefs.

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