- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

Six families in Maine have filed a lawsuit asking the state to overturn a 1981 law that bans religious schools from the state's almost century-old school choice program.
Lawyers representing the families argue that discriminating against parents who choose religious schools through the state's tuitioning program violates the Constitution. The program, established in 1903, requires towns with no secondary schools to pay tuition for residents to attend public or private schools elsewhere.
The families who have filed the lawsuit come from the three small towns of Durham, Minot and Raymond.
For most of its existence, the tuitioning system allowed parents to select religious schools. In 1981, however, the state attorney general advised the Maine Legislature that including religious schools in the program violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause. The Legislature voted to exclude religious schools from the system.
"Maine offers school choice to everyone except those who choose religious schools," said Richard Komer, senior attorney with the Washington-based Institute for Justice, which is representing the families. "Under the Constitution, that's religious discrimination, and we intend to restore our clients' religious liberty."
Mr. Komer said the state's exclusion of religious schools had no legal standing since the U.S. Supreme Court this summer upheld the constitutionality of a voucher program in Cleveland affirming that parents in neutral school choice programs were free to choose religious options under the Establishment Clause.
Despite the high court's ruling, state Attorney General Steven Rowe sent the state's education commissioner a letter instructing school districts and the state not to release publicly available tuition dollars to parents choosing religious schools, until the legislature or the courts said otherwise.
The families say their towns and state are discriminating against them.
"Choice isn't true choice when the state removes so many of our options," said Dale Daniels, whose son Kyle attends St. Dominic's Regional High School, a Catholic school in Lewiston. "We know that St. Dominic's is the best school for our son, so who is the state to deny us equal access to a good education?"
Kevin and Julia Anderson, who are Seventh-day Adventists, agreed.
"If everyone else has the freedom to choose a school, why is this right denied to us just on the basis of religion?" said Mr. Anderson, whose son David attends Pine Tree Academy in Freeport. "Our school is a good school, accredited by the state, yet the state says we aren't allowed to select it through the tuitioning program."


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