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Earlier this week, Senator Lindsay Graham introduced Senate Resolution 407 , legislation that celebrates religious schools and their contributions to our country by designating the first week of October as “Religious Education Week.”
Religious schools are a vital expression of freedom of religion in America. Every day, parents live out their religious beliefs by sending their children to schools that align with their core convictions.
Sen. Graham’s resolution also highlights the numerous practical benefits of religious education, including improvements in students’ mental health and self-development.
However, despite all these contributions, we continue to see religious schools and students excluded from publicly available benefits based solely on the fact that they are religious. This is particularly alarming when one considers how clear the U.S. Supreme Court has been in recent years about protecting the freedoms of religious schools and organizations.
In 2017, the Supreme Court laid the groundwork for ensuring faith-based organizations can’t be denied access to public programs in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer . In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that the state of Missouri had violated the First Amendment when it excluded churches and other religious organizations from receiving a grant from a government program simply because of their religious identity.
Building on Trinity Lutheran, just last year the Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that it was wrong to eliminate a tax credit program that helped students and their families afford private school just because they might choose a school that’s religious. This made clear that all Montana families should have equal access to such benefits and schools cannot be discriminated against simply because they are religious.
But despite these two strong decisions in support of the right of religious organizations to participate in or benefit equally from government programs, there are those who continue to challenge the free exercise rights of students and parents who choose religious schools.
For example, ADF currently represents students at a Catholic high school in Vermont who were denied participation in a town tuition program that allows students who live in towns without public schools to receive tuition to attend a school of their choice. When these students requested tuition for a Catholic school, their school district denied the request—simply because they chose a religious education.
And earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Carson v. Makin , a case in which the state of Maine prohibited families from using funds from a state tuition program—designed for students who don’t have access to a local public school—at private religious schools. In an attempt to get around the Supreme Court’s previous rulings in support of religious schools, the state of Maine argued that they were merely denying funds from going to religious actions, not targeting the schools based on their religious status.
These cases demonstrate why Sen. Graham’s resolution is timely and important. Despite continuing to support religious expression, strengthen the well-being of students, and create diverse educational options, religious schools are being forced out of public programs, simply for being religious.
ADF is proud to support this resolution making the first week of October “Religious Education Week.” Nearly 4 million students attend religious schools in America, and they deserve to have their freedom to do so defended and their contributions celebrated.
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