The First Amendment never uses the term “separation of church and state.” It instead contains two religion clauses: one that prevents Congress (or, since the 14th Amendment, the states) from passing any law establishing a state church or “respecting” such an establishment; and the other protecting the free exercise of religion from government prohibitions. A myth has grown up around Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 phrase “wall of separation” that treats religion, not as a thing the government cannot mandate or regulate, but as a kind of kryptonite the government must avoid any contact with even if it means separation of religious people and institutions from equal participation in what the state provides. That is not what the establishment clause was understood to mean in 1791, and today, the Supreme Court went further: It concluded that discrimination of that sort violates the free-exercise clause.

This morning’s 6–3 Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, is a huge victory for the freedom of religious parents to educate their children in the school of their choice on the same terms as non-religious parents. Maine long ago established a school-choice program in order to resolve the tension between its state constitutional requirement of a publicly funded education and the reality that much of Maine is too rural to support a school in every town: As Roberts noted, “of Maine’s 260 school administrative units (SAUs), fewer than half operate a public secondary school of their own.”

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