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Maine Families Claim Discrimination Against Religious Schools In Appeal To US Supreme Court

J. Scott Applewhite
Associated Press file
In this Nov. 6, 2020, file photo the Supreme Court is seen as sundown in Washington.

Lawyers representing three Maine families challenging a state law prohibiting public tuition funds from going to religious schools are now appealing their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Virginia-based Libertarian Institute for Justice submitted a petition to the court on Thursday. At issue is Maine’s town tuitioning program, which allows state tuition payments for students in towns without their own high schools to be used at nearby public or private schools, but not at religious schools. The case was rejected by a federal appeals court last year.

But Institute for Justice attorney Michael Bindas says that the case was given renewed hope after the Supreme Court ruled last year that a tax credit program in Montana could be used for religious schools.

“And so in light of that recent precedent from the Supreme Court, we’re very hopeful that the court will take this case and strike down Maine’s sectarian exclusion,” he says. “It’s religious discrimination, all the same, and it’s unconstitutional.”

The institute has filed similar challenges in New Hampshire and Vermont. In a statement, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey says that if the Supreme Court takes up the case, “we will vigorously defend Maine’s program that ensures a free public education is available to all Maine children.

“We believe that the First Circuit correctly concluded that because the only purpose of Maine’s ‘tuition’ program is to replicate the education that a student would receive at a public school if their local school unit operated one, Maine is not discriminating based on the religious status of any private school,” Frey says. “Maine is simply declining to pay for religious instruction that would be unavailable in any public school. Maine’s program is unlike the ‘no aid’ clause in the Montana Constitution at issue in the Supreme Court’s recent Espinoza decision, or any prior ‘school choice’ program that has been subject to review.”