Christian schools in Maine continue to fight official state discrimination against them, despite a court case resolution that was supposed to eliminate that problem.
A Real Clear Policy report only last year explained the U.S. Supreme Court ruled then that a state law preventing state aid from flowing to religious schools under its tuition-payment program violated the First Amendment.
However, First Liberty Institute says it has filed a new lawsuit, and a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the federal court to halt a new Maine law passed to prevent religious schools from participating in the state’s school choice program due to their religious beliefs.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bangor Christian School.
“Maine lost at the U.S. Supreme Court just last year but is not getting the message that religious discrimination is illegal,” said Lea Patterson, counsel for First Liberty Institute. “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.”
First Liberty explained Maine’s tuitioning program is the second oldest school choice program in the nation. It allows parents who live in school districts that do not operate a high school to send their children to the public or private school of their choice.
Parents previously were not allowed to use their tuition benefit at a religion school. But when the case was pending before the Supreme Court, lawmakers change their requirements to demand that BCS violate its sincerely held religious beliefs in order to participate.
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“This ‘poison pill’ imposes requirements that will prohibit BCS from teaching from its religious perspective or considering in admissions applicants’ alignment with the school’s statement of faith and religious educational mission,” the legal team explained.
The report said it actually was Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey who earlier issued a statement specifically targeting BCS and expressed extreme hostility to its religious beliefs and vowed to exclude it from the program.
The motion explains, “This ‘poison pill’ effectively deters religious schools from participating and thereby perpetuates the religious discrimination at the heart of the sectarian exclusion. From the start, Maine’s attorney general and the then-speaker of the House of Representatives admitted this scheme was intentional. The legislature crafted the poison pill explicitly to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision….”
In the earlier decision, Chief Justice John Roberts made clear that the program specifically excluded religious schools from participation in violation of Mainers’ right to the free exercise of religion.
“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote. “Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”
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