Brownback agrees with U.S. Supreme Court ruling on state funding of religious schools

By: - June 21, 2022 5:34 pm
Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, departs the post Wednesday following the re-election defeat of President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. (Screenshot of U.S. State Department briefing/Kansas Reglector)

Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback also served as the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He departed the post following the re-election defeat of President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. (Screenshot of U.S. State Department briefing/Kansas Reflector)

Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback released a statement agreeing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday, which stated a Maine school voucher program cannot exclude funding for sectarian education. 

The program – which is unique to Maine because more than half of its school districts operate without a public high school – appropriates taxpayer money to students in districts without a high school. Parents were allowed to use the tuition vouchers at public schools in other districts and private schools that are “nonsectarian in accordance with the First Amendment.”

To comply with the ruling, the program must now fund tuition for private schools that provide religious instruction. 

“The Supreme Court’s decision in this case is both good and right. I am encouraged that the court has upheld the Constitution’s protection of a person’s free exercise of religion,” Brownback said.

The court ruling was 6-3, with the three liberal justices in opposition. 

Parents sued the commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, citing the program infringes on their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, according to NBC News. The families that brought about the case either sent or wanted to send their children to a religious secondary school. 

This ruling referred to a previous Supreme Court ruling, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, which decided Montana cannot exclude religious institutions from receiving public funding through state-based scholarship programs that provide students tuition for private schools. 

“There is nothing neutral about Maine’s program,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority opinion. “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion.”

He wrote Maine’s program, “promotes stricter separation of church and state than the Constitution requires.”

Maine said it offers a free public education and that a public education to the state is “a nonsectarian one that exposes children to diverse viewpoints, promotes tolerance and acceptance, teaches academic subjects in a religiously neutral manner, and does not promote a particular faith.”

Temple Academy and Bangor Christian Schools were the two secondary schools that the parents involved in the case either wanted to have or had their children attend. Both schools have Christianity intertwined in their instruction.

According to the Supreme Court brief, the two schools “candidly admit that they discriminate against homosexuals, individuals who are transgender, and non-Christians with respect to both who they admit as students and who they hire as teachers and staff.”

Brownback said he agreed with the ruling. “If a state wishes to subsidize education it must not exclude or discriminate against those who would use that subsidy in favor of religious schools,” his statement read. 

While the Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue case ruled that states cannot restrict funding from private schools based on their religious status, this case ruled states cannot restrict funding from private schools based on their curriculum.

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Lily O'Shea Becker
Lily O'Shea Becker

Lily O’Shea Becker is a senior studying journalism at the University of Kansas. She is an intern with the Kansas Reflector for the 2022 summer. Lily has experience as a multimedia journalist, photojournalist, producer and copy editor for a variety of news outlets in Lawrence and at the University of Kansas.

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