Supreme Court to Hear Maine Religious School Case



(The Center Square) – The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in a lawsuit in Maine challenging a state law prohibiting the use of tuition funds for religious education.

Lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice and First Liberty Institute on behalf of several Maine families seeks to overturn a state law that prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars for students to attend denominational schools .

The Maine Department of Education provides tuition fees for families living in remote towns that lack public schools to send their children to public or private schools in other communities. But the tuition reimbursement program excludes denominational schools.

Michael Bindas, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice who will be arguing the case in the High Court, said that by excluding only religious religious schools from its school curriculum, Maine violated the U.S. Constitution.

“Religious schools meet Maine’s compulsory education laws and meet all secular requirements to participate in the Tuition Assistance Program, but parents cannot select them just because they also provide religious education. “he said in a statement. “It is religious discrimination, and the Constitution does not tolerate it.”

The complainants in the case, Carson v. Makin, want Maine to pay tuition at Bangor Christian School in Bangor and Temple Academy in Waterville, according to the lawsuit.

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the First Liberty Institute, said discrimination against parents “because of religious choices for their children is not only unconstitutional, it is bad”.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will put an end to these violations, not only for the good of the Carsons and the Nelsons, but for the good of all parents in America,” she said.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey argues that religious schools are excluded from the school curriculum because the curriculum they provide is not equivalent to public education.

“Parents are free to send their children to such schools if they wish, but not with public funds,” Frey said in a recent statement on the court challenge. “I have no doubts that the Supreme Court will recognize that nothing in the Constitution obliges Maine to include religious schools in its public education system.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld the state’s exclusion of religious schools from tuition reimbursement in three separate decisions, most recent in October 2020.

“Their attempts to secure government funding to subsidize religious education are a direct attack on the very right to religious freedom they claim to support,” they wrote in a legal brief filed in opposition to the lawsuit. “The constitutional prohibition of states taxing citizens for the benefit of religion, directly or indirectly, guarantees religious freedom for all. “

The audio of the arguments before the Supreme Court will be broadcast live.

But the families appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which agreed to take up the case.

Dozens of advocacy groups, teacher unions, and federal and state government agencies on both sides of the issue have filed legal briefs in the landmark case arguing for or against lifting the restrictions.

Lawyers for EdChoice, an Indiana-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice, wrote in an amicus brief filed in support of the plaintiffs that Maine schoolchildren are “being forced to choose between generally available education funding and the free exercise of their religious beliefs. ”

But lawyers for the Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation argued that Maine’s education policy does not discriminate against religion.

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