Justices Debate Public Money For Religious Schooling

Supreme Court justices appeared equally divided Tuesday over the constraints governing public funding for religious studies in a case that one justice said could potentially reshape government spending on a vast scale.

Depending on how the court rules in the case of a college student denied scholarship money to attend divinity school, government agencies across the country would have to be careful not to exclude religious programs in many areas, such as government contracting and medical programs, said Justice Stephen Breyer.

"The implications of this case are breathtaking," Breyer said, noting governments would have to walk a fine legal line to avoid discriminating against religious programs when it came to funding for government contracting, medical training and education programs. "We would be fighting over billions and billions of dollars."

A decision on the case could not only have a legal impact on church-state grounds, but also in the realm of federalism -- the power states have over the national government to enforce its own laws. The justices are being asked to decide how far beyond the U.S. Constitution the states may go in maintaining their own policies on church-state separation.

From CNN.com's report here.

UPDATE: Slate's Dahlia Lithwick reports on the case and oral argument here.