Maine School Choice | Cases | First Liberty

Maine’s law blatantly discriminates against parents based on religion, providing some families with tuition support for the school of their choice but denying that same support to other families. The families who filed the lawsuit qualify for Maine’s tuitioning program in all other respects, but they are excluded from participating only because they chose religious schools for their children. Such discrimination is both unfair and unconstitutional.

IJ and FLI argue not only that the U.S. Supreme Court has given the green light to include religious options in a school choice program, but that a 2017 Supreme Court decision makes it clear that barring parents from choosing religious options when providing families with school choice violates the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses.

In June, a judge determined that plaintiff parents were entitled to challenge the law in court.

However, in October 2020, a panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling upholding the Maine law that excludes religious schools as an option for parents and students from the state’s high school tuitioning program. The ruling comes despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana¸ which struck down similar restrictions in a school choice program. The parents challenging the law and their attorneys at the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the First Liberty Institute (FLI) will appeal today’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Learn More at IJ.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 29, 2020

Maine Parents Challenging Law Excluding Religious Schools from State’s Tuition Program Will Appeal to Supreme Court
Federal appeals court rules for state despite recent Supreme Court decision that struck down Montana’s restrictions on a school choice program

Arlington, Va.—A panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a ruling upholding a Maine law that excludes religious schools as an option for parents and students from the state’s high school tuitioning program. The ruling comes despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana¸ which struck down similar restrictions in a school choice program. The parents challenging the law and their attorneys at the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the First Liberty Institute (FLI) will appeal today’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Today’s decision allows the state of Maine to continue discriminating against families and students seeking to attend religious schools and we will immediately appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said IJ Senior Attorney Tim Keller. “The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Espinoza prohibits religious discrimination in educational choice programs. Today’s decision is disappointing for families across Maine, but we are confident the Supreme Court will ultimately put a stop to it.”

Maine is home to the nation’s second-oldest school choice program. Since 1873, Maine’s “tuitioning” system has paid for parents in towns too small to maintain public schools to send their children to the school of their choice—public or private, in-state or out-of-state. Until a flawed 1980 legal opinion, parents were free to exercise their independent choice to select religious schools.

“The U.S. Constitution does not allow the government to discriminate against religious educational options,” said IJ Senior Attorney Arif Panju. “The state of Maine has done so for 40 years, and we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to finally put an end to it.”

The three plaintiff families reside in small towns—Orrington, Glenburn and Palermo—where the local school districts pay tuition for resident high school students to attend the public or private schools of their choice in lieu of maintaining their own public high schools.

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