CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-FIRST AMENDMENT-RELIGION-TUITION ASSISTANCE FOR RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

June 28th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Constitutional Law

Carson v. Makin, 2022 U.S. LEXIS 3013 (S. Ct. June 21, 2022) (Roberts, J.)  Maine has enacted a program of tuition assistance for parents who live in school districts that do not operate a secondary school of their own. Under the program, parents designate the secondary school they would like their child to attend—public or private—and the school district transmits payments to that school to help defray the costs of tuition. Most private schools are eligible to receive the payments, so long as they are “nonsectarian.” The question presented is whether this restriction violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects against “indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.” Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Assn., 485 U. S. 439, 450, 108 S. Ct. 1319, 99 L. Ed. 2d 534 (1988). In particular, we have repeatedly held that a State violates the Free Exercise Clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits. See Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398, 404, 83 S. Ct. 1790, 10 L. Ed. 2d 965 (1963) (“It is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege.”); see also Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 16, 67 S. Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711 (1947) (a State “cannot exclude” individuals “because of their faith, or lack of it, from receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation”). A State may not withhold unemployment benefits, for instance, on the ground that an individual lost his job for refusing to abandon the dictates of his faith. See Sherbert, 374 U. S., at 399- 402, 83 S. Ct. 1790, 10 L. Ed. 2d 965 (Seventh-day Adventist who refused to work on the Sabbath); Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Employment Security Div., 450 U. S. 707, 709, 720, 101 S. Ct. 1425, 67 L. Ed. 2d 624 (1981) (Jehovah’s Witness who refused to participate in the production of armaments). Maine’s “nonsectarian” requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]