U.S. Supreme Court will take up Maine religious school tuition case

·2 min read

Jul. 2—The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a challenge to a Maine law that bars students from using public funding for tuition at religious schools.

The plaintiffs have been aiming for the nation's highest court since they filed their lawsuit in 2019. A judge in the U.S. District Court of Maine and a panel at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston have so far sided with the state. The Supreme Court on Friday announced that it would add the case to its docket for its next term.

Local school administrative units that do not have their own secondary schools can pay a certain amount in tuition for students to attend outside public or private schools, but Maine law does not allow for that money to be used at religious schools. So three families sued the state last year to get that tuition reimbursement for their children at Bangor Christian School in Bangor and Temple Academy in Waterville.

The plaintiffs — David and Amy Carson, Alan and Judy Gillis and Troy and Angela Nelson —say the law violated their First Amendment protections for religious freedom, while the state says public money cannot be used for religious instruction. They have been represented by outside groups that describe themselves as advocates for religious liberty, including the Institute for Justice.

"By singling out religion — and only religion — for exclusion from its tuition assistance program, Maine violates the U.S. Constitution," the group's senior attorney Michael Bindas said in a statement Friday. "The state flatly bans parents from choosing schools that offer religious instruction. That is unconstitutional."

In an earlier ruling, U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby upheld the law, citing among other things the Maine Human Rights Act, which prohibits religious groups from receiving public money if they maintain a discriminatory hiring policy against LGBTQ people. Both Bangor Christian and Temple Academy do so.

In 2019, while President Trump was still in office, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief in the appeal that sided with the Maine families.

"The First Amendment's religious freedom protections are especially important for families and children, and the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that all children may participate equally in educational programs without discrimination because of their religion," Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the department's Civil Rights Division, said at the time.

The Biden Administration Justice Department is not likely to have the same position.

This story will be updated.

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