The Fight for Religious Schools in Maine is Far from Over

March 8, 2024
Bangor Christian School | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 3 min read

A federal district court in Maine recently denied our motion for preliminary injunction in our case involving Bangor Christian Schools (BCS).

Despite our U.S. Supreme Court victory for religious education in Carson v. Makin (2022), Maine keeps trying to exclude BCS and other religious schools from participating in the state tuition program. In 2021, the Maine Legislature changed the law to require BCS to violate its sincerely held religious beliefs in order to participate in the school-choice program.

First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the state last year. We asked the district court to issue a preliminary injunction that would stop the state from enforcing the restrictions while the case is pending. But the court denied that request on Feb. 27.

This certainly isn’t the outcome we were hoping for, and we respectfully disagree with the court’s decision.

This case is not over. The district court’s decision paves the way to take the case to a higher level. Importantly, the court held that our lawsuit was procedurally correct to file now, and that our client did not have to risk violating the state’s law in order to challenge it in court.

The court also emphasized that our lawsuit raises important legal questions and its decision is a prelude to bringing the legal challenge to a higher court.

What’s more, the court noted that, “Despite the plaintiffs’ hard-fought and significant victory at the United States Supreme Court in Carson, the Maine Legislature and the Maine Attorney General have largely deprived (BCS) and similar religious schools of the fruit of their victory.”

Maine officials have repeatedly shown hostility and anti-religious bias toward our client. For example, the same day the Court issued Carson, 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 district court even acknowledged that the then-Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives posted a hostile Tweet asserting that the new law was designed to evade the Carson ruling. In that Tweet, the Speaker called the Carson ruling a “ludicrous decision from the far-right SCOTUS.”

Even still, the court concluded these statements were not enough to prove that Maine’s law violates the Free Exercise Clause’s prohibition on religious targeting.

We will appeal the district court’s decision. Maine’s law is unconstitutional, and our attorneys are going to keep fighting so that BCS can equally participate in the state program without facing religious discrimination.

“Religious organizations and religious parents should not be penalized because they choose to send their children to religious options,” First Liberty attorney Lea Patterson said. “I would always encourage parents that it’s worth fighting for educational options for their children and that they should not have to face religious discrimination when they select a school.”

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

Our Supreme Court victory was crucial. But our work is not finished. Bangor Christian is counting on your support. Families should be free to choose the educational option that’s best for them without the government’s interference.

Please donate to First Liberty today.

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