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Maine Parents Head to U.S. Supreme Court Over Law that Bans Religious School Choice

02-07-2021
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Parents in Maine are taking their religious discrimination case to the U.S. Supreme Court after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that students would only qualify for educational benefits if they attend a school that does not provide religious instruction. 

Since 1873, Maine has paid for parents in small towns to send their children to the school of their choice, regardless if that school is public or private. However, that option is simply not available for students who want to attend religious schools. 

Attorneys with the Institute for Justice (IJ) and First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of multiple families who have been impacted by the exclusion.

"By singling out religion—and only religion—for exclusion from its tuition assistance program, Maine violates the U.S. Constitution," said IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas. "Parents deserve the right to choose the school that is best for their children, whether it's a school that focuses on STEM instruction, offers language immersion, or provides robust instruction in the arts."

"Maine correctly allows parents to choose such schools—or virtually any other school they think will best serve their kids. But the state flatly bans parents from choosing schools that offer religious instruction. That is unconstitutional," Bindas added.

Amy and Dave Carson wanted to send their daughter to Bangor Christian Schools, a private, nonprofit school in Maine. They chose the school because its belief system supports their faith.

The state's department of education considers the school to be a "private school approved for attendance purposes" but ineligible for tuition assistance because it's "sectarian," "instilling a Biblical worldview in its students" and includes religious instruction with its curriculum.

Additionally, Angela and Troy Nelson are sending their children to a secular private high school that is approved for the tuition program. But, they wanted to send them to Temple Academy, a school that matches their religious beliefs. 

Temple, like Bangor Christian, is fully accredited, but because it is "sectarian," Maine disqualifies it from the state's assistance program. 

"For 40 years, Maine has rejected parental choice in education and allowed religious discrimination to persist," said Lea Patterson, an attorney with First Liberty Institute. "The Supreme Court should act now so yet another generation of schoolchildren is not deprived of desperately needed educational opportunity and the right to freely exercise their religion."

IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock added, "The Supreme Court taking this case and ruling in favor of the parents will ensure that educational choice programs can provide a wide range of school options—whether public or private, religious or non-religious—that enable parents to find a school that best meets their children's individual needs. Now more than ever, it's time to expand educational opportunities for all families."

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