The Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding the free exercise of religion threaten fundamental changes to public education. On their face, these decisions are relatively narrow. They prohibit states from explicitly excluding religious schools from participating in states’ tuition subsidy programs, otherwise known as private school vouchers. But school choice advocates and some scholars argue that the rationale in these cases also extends to religious organizations that want to operate public charter schools.
While these changes would drain enormous resources from an already underfunded public education system, even more important interests are at stake: antidiscrimination and basic core curriculum. More specifically, the further expansion of religion into voucher and charter programs calls into question whether states can require religious organizations to comply with antidiscrimination protections and deliver non-religious educational content that is consistent with state standards.
This Article is the first to demonstrate that religious schools’ right to participate in certain education programs is not a right to reset all the rules of those programs. First, states retain authority to control the curriculum that public dollars support in both charter and private schools. Second, states have an affirmative obligation under federal law to ensure that all parties participating in state education programs comply with secular and antidiscrimination standards. Thus, rather than using the Court’s recent free exercise cases as an excuse to retreat from antidiscrimination and secular standards, states must reinforce those norms in a way that is consistent with newly established—but limited—free exercise rights.
Derek W. Black, Religion, Discrimination, and the Future of Public Education, 13 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 805 (2023).