US Supreme Court takes up case involving schools, money and religion
The US Supreme Court, pictured on Nov. 6, 2013 in Washington, DC (AFP)

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a case that asks whether schools that make the bible an essential teaching tool and reject gay and transgender students can receive government funding.

The nine-judge court featuring six conservatives were considering a school aid program in the northeast state of Maine and will render a decision in the spring of next year.

As Maine is sparsely populated, more than half of its school districts have no publicly funded high schools. So families receive subsidies that allow them to send their kids to the school of their choice.

Parents can choose public or private schools, in Maine or another state, and even schools affiliated with religion, so long as the teaching there is not "sectarian."

It is this final clause that is at stake in the case before the Supreme Court. Two evangelical Christian families have sued to be able to use the education subsidy money to send their kids to religious schools that are not included in the aid program.

In denying them a spot in the program, local authorities argue that one of these schools "teaches children that the husband is the leader of the household" and encourages kids to recognize "God as Creator of the world."

The other makes use of the bible in all academic subjects. Both of them mix religious and academic teaching and do not accept LGBTQ students or employees.

Both sides in the argument invoke the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion but forbids any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

The parents who sued -- they are backed by a dozen or so Republican senators, 20-odd conservative-ruled states and many religious institutions -- insist on the freedom of religion clause to say they have the right to choose a school that reflects their values and say they are suffering discrimination because of their religious views.

The state of Maine says in turn that the clause on establishing a religion bars the use of government money to finance a religion.

The administration of President Joe Biden, Democratic-run states and teachers and human rights associations have backed Maine in this fight.

So far federal courts have sided with Maine. In agreeing to study the case the Supreme Court -- several of its justices have recently shown themselves quite willing to defend freedom of religion -- is suggesting that it might be willing to overrule the lower courts.

The case is a part of a much wider and very hot debate in the United States on the role of parents in the education of children.

It has featured arguments over mask mandates in schools, the teaching of racism's role in US history after the widespread street protests triggered by the death of George Floyd last year, and transgender students in schools.