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Courts and Crime

Supreme Court To Take Up Case Challenging Maine Law Barring Taxpayer Funding For Religious Schools

Supreme Court
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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AP
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Thursday, July 1, 2021.

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case from Maine challenging the state's long-standing law prohibiting public tuition funds from going to private religious schools.

The case was originally brought more than three years ago. It involves the Maine's "town tuitioning" program, which reimburses families in communities without a high school if they send their child to a surrounding public or private school. Religious schools are excluded. Three families represented in the case argue that the ban violates their First Amendment rights and is unconstitutional.

Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, is representing the families in the case. He says parents should have the right to select whatever school is best for their children.

"Look, for some parents, that's going to be a school that provides great STEM instruction or language immersion classes, or a great arts curriculum. And for some parents, it's going to be a school that provides religious instruction," Bindas says. "The state shouldn't be able to deny that opportunity to children, just because the state believes religious instruction should be off-limits."

Bindas also says that their argument is boosted by a recent Supreme Court decision out of Montana, which ruled that a tax-credit program could not exclude religious schools.

Maine's law has repeatedly held up in court despite multiple challenges. Both a federal and appeals court have already ruled in the state's favor in the current case.

In a statement, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said he is confident that the court will rule in the state's favor, and that Maine's public education system "fully comports with the United States Constitution, and we will vigorously defend it, as we have repeatedly, and successfully, done in the past."

Frey said that religious schools are excluded from Maine's tuition laws because "the education they provide is not equivalent to a public education. Religious schools can and do advance their own religion to the exclusion of all others, discriminate in both the teachers they employ and the students they admit, and teach religious views inimical to what is taught in public schools. Parents are free to send their children to such schools if they choose, but not with public dollars."

Lawyers expect the case to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall or winter.