St. Dominic Academy v. Makin

Commitment to Catholic education   

Keith and Valori Radonis are organic farmers in rural Maine who want to send their children to schools that uphold their Catholic beliefs. Both Keith and Valori were raised in devout Catholic homes, and they believe it is their religious responsibility to help to plant, nurture, and cultivate the seed of faith in own their children. For years, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Portland—including St. Dominic Academy—played a vital role in assisting parents like the Radonises educate their children through the state’s tuition assistance program. This program allows parents like the Radonises who live in rural school districts to educate their children at private schools where there is no public school nearby.  

The Diocese of Portland’s schools have long offered outstanding academics, graduating high-achieving classes of students that excel on standardized tests and go on to elite colleges and universities. Inspired by Catholic Social Tradition, they also teach students to devote themselves to serving others from all walks of life. For example, students in the diocese have raised money for food kitchens, cared for the elderly at senior homes, joined mission trips to Mississippi to help rebuild homes devastated by hurricanes, sponsored donation drives for asylum seekers, hosted baby showers to aid local mothers, and raised money to support veterans and their families.  

Unfortunately, in 1982, Maine abruptly excluded faith-based schools like St. Dominic from the program  simply because they were religious. Maine still paid tuition for Maine students attending out-of-state boarding schools and public schools in Quebec, but not for Maine students who wanted to go to religious schools located in Maine. In the decades following, these schools were unable to partner with rural Maine families.  

Maine skirts the law to bar funding to religious education 

In 2021, three families brought a challenge to Maine’s religious education ban in Carson v. Makin. The Supreme Court took the case, and the following summer a six-Justice majority struck the state law down, paving the way for St. Dominic and many other faith-based schools to begin serving rural Maine families again. 

However, in the lead up to the Carson case at the Supreme Court, officials in Maine saw the writing on the wall. Anticipating that the Court would strike down Maine’s ban on religious schools, Maine passed a new law to keep the religious schools out covertly. Maine’s new law requires schools that receive tuition funds to allow all religious expression equally, which prevents schools like St. Dominic from carrying out their ministry of educating students in the Catholic faith. And it gives the Maine Human Rights Commission—not parents or the school—the final word on how the school teaches students to live out Catholic beliefs regarding marriage, gender, and family life. As a result, faith-based schools are still being excluded from the state program to help rural families. 

The law protects faith-based schools and the families they serve 

Maine is punishing schools like St. Dominic because of their commitment to providing a holistic education in accordance with their beliefs. It is also punishing rural families who want to use the tuition program to send their children to faith-based schools. The Supreme Court has consistently and recently affirmed that states cannot cut off generally available funding from faith-based schools and families because they are religious. Faith-based schools should have the ability to partner with parents who want the best education for their children.  


Importance to Religious Liberty: 

Education: Religious schools should be able to participate in publicly available programs, and religious school students should be able to participate in these programs on equal footing as students who attend non-religious schools.

Carson v. Makin

Giving Religious Education the Cold Shoulder

For students living in rural Maine communities—in one of the least densely populated parts of the United States—local public high schools are hard to come by. The State of Maine offers tuition assistance to families who send their children to private schools—any private schools except religious schools. In fact, students have used Maine student aid to attend elite New England prep schools such as Avon Old Farms, the Taft School, and Miss Porter’s. They are even entitled to use Maine student aid to attend private schools outside the country—as long as they aren’t religious. These otherwise qualified religious schools are left out and the children attending these schools receive no tuition assistance throughout their entire primary education, all because the schools have a religious mission.

Religious schools nationwide provide high-standard education with a spiritual foundation. These educational opportunities are sought after by parents who choose to send their children to religious schools so that their children receive both a first-rate education and they are able to pass the faith to the next generation.

The Supreme Court Steps In, and In Again

Unfortunately our country has a long history of excluding religious institutions from public programs, stemming from anti-Catholic laws in the nineteenth century. These laws, called Blaine Amendments, were adopted by several states and burdened religious ministries simply because of their faith-driven beliefs. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that Montana could not exclude religious schools from a scholarship program based on Montana’s Blaine Amendment. The Court explained that the exclusion was “born of bigotry,” and Justice Alito elaborated on the dark history of Blaine Amendments. The decision also strengthened precedent set in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer that said a religious school could not be blocked from participating in a state recycling program.

Unfortunately, the State of Maine thinks that it can still exclude religious schools from its tuition assistance program. On February 4, 2021, families from Maine asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their case and end Maine’s discriminatory actions. The Court granted review and on September 10, 2021, Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief that emphasized the importance of the First Amendment and the free exercise of religion, saying that Maine could not justify singling out children who wanted to attend religious schools.

On June 21, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the state of Maine’s tuition assistance program was in violation of the Free Exercise clause, coming as a major victory for religious schools in Maine and throughout the country.

Importance to Religious Liberty:

  • EducationReligious schools should be able to participate in publicly available programs without discrimination, and religious school students should be able to participate in these programs on equal footing as students who attend non-religious schools.