Maine Keeps Trying to Exclude Religious Schools from State School Choice Program

March 31, 2023
Bangor Christian School | First Liberty Institute

by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read

This week, First Liberty urged the U.S. District Court of Maine to halt a state law that discriminates against religious schools.

We filed a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of Bangor Christian Schools (BCS), operated by Crosspoint Church in Maine. For more than 50 years, the school has provided students and families with an education grounded in biblical principles. Its vision is to help students “grow in their faith, have a positive impact in their world for Christ and actively serve in their churches and communities.”

Despite our 6-3 victory for religious schools at the U.S. Supreme Court last year, Maine persists in trying to exclude BCS and other religious schools from participating in the state tuitioning program.

First Liberty attorney Lea Patterson said:

“Maine lost at the U.S. Supreme Court just last year, but is not getting the message that religious discrimination is illegal. Maine’s new law imposes special burdens on religious schools in order to keep them out of the school-choice program. Government punishing religious schools for living out their religious beliefs is not only unconstitutional, it is wrong.”  

Our Treat Children Fairly case (Carson v. Makin) was a landmark victory for religious education. The Court ruled that states cannot discriminate against parents who send their children to religious schools under government student-aid, or “tuitioning,” programs. It also held that government must treat religious organizations the same as everyone else.

In anticipation of this decision, however, the Maine Legislature enacted a law that penalizes Christian schools for teaching religious beliefs. It put in place a provision saying that tuitioning schools cannot discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

These requirements prohibit BCS from teaching its religious perspective or admitting only students who agree to support the school’s statement of faith and religious educational mission. Schools like BCS would be forced to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs in order to participate in the state program.

Maine officials have repeatedly shown hostility and anti-religious bias ever since the Supreme Court ruled favorably for our clients. The same day the Court issued Carson, for example, Maine’s Attorney General issued a statement specifically targeting BCS, expressing extreme hostility to its religious beliefs and vowing to exclude the school from the state program.

The Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives also posted a hostile Tweet calling Carson a “ludicrous decision from the far-right SCOTUS.”

Maine’s law is unconstitutional. The state wrongfully excluded religious schools for 40+ years. It lost at the highest court last year, and the Supreme Court’s direction was clear: its religious discrimination must end.

Our Treat Children Fairly victory was crucial. But our work is not finished. There are still many cases we must win to ensure state officials follow the Supreme Court’s direction.

Bangor Christian is counting on your support. Families should be free to choose the educational option that works best for them without the government’s interference.

Please donate to First Liberty today. With your support, we can continue restoring religious freedom in our nation’s schools.

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