The Department of Justice is supporting Maine parents who are challenging a state school tuition policy they say violates the First Amendment rights of students who attend religious schools.
“The First Amendment’s religious freedom protections are especially important for families and children,” Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said in a statement. “And the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that all children may participate equally in educational programs without discrimination because of their religion.”
The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Maine’s Department of Education funds secondary schooling for students living in one of the 143 administrative areas that do not have public high schools — but only for secular schools.
Parents of four children attending private, religious schools filed suit in August 2018, saying the policy tramples on their free speech rights. In June, a federal judge sided with Maine. But the judge noted that a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, in which Missouri was found to violate a religious preschool’s rights to participate in a recycling program for playground re-surfacing, opens the possibility for a new ruling at the higher court.
The 26-page filing is similar to the Justice Department’s participation in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that will be heard this term at the Supreme Court.