- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Maine is being sued over legislation enacted in 2021 that faith-based educators claim is a “poison pill” for religious schools.  

The law covers participation in the state’s “tuititioning” program, which allows parents of children in districts without a high school to send those students to any other school inside or outside of Maine, public or private, with the government picking up the tab. 

Between 1980 and June 2022, religious schools were excluded from accessing the benefit, but the Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin held the exclusion was a form of religious discrimination.

Maine responded by limiting the religious exemption protections in the state’s Human Rights Act.

Crosspoint Church and its affiliated Bangor Christian School have asked a federal district court to grant a preliminary injunction against the restriction, which says the church and school say will block religious institutions that receive state funds from “offering instruction consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

According to the complaint, the measure “effectively deters religious schools from participating and thereby perpetuates the religious discrimination at the heart of the sectarian exclusion,” which the high court’s 2022 Carson v. Makin decision set aside.

“The Legislature crafted the poison pill explicitly to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision in Carson,” the lawsuit states. “The poison pill also specifically targeted Plaintiff [Crosspoint Church], who operates the school that two of the Carson plaintiffs attended.”

According to Lea Patterson, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, a public-interest law firm representing Crosspoint Church, the restricted religious exemption “is the same kind of discrimination that the Supreme Court just invalidated. It’s just [done] through different means.”

Aaron Frey, Maine’s attorney general, told The Washington Times via email, “All Mainers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it be in their workplace, their housing, or in their classrooms. The Maine Human Rights Act is in place to protect Mainers from discrimination and the Office of the Attorney General is steadfast in upholding the law. If abiding by this state law is unacceptable to the plaintiffs, they are free to forego taxpayer funding.”

Ms. Patterson said the religious exemption rules are unique in the way Maine views private schools in the state.

For example, she said, “single-sex schools are almost completely exempt from this law. The only protected class that applies to single-sex schools is disability. So, if the state really cares as much about discrimination as it seems to say it does, then how come there’s this massive exemption for single-sex schools while religious schools are being targeted?”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Frey said their office would not answer further questions about the issues raised in the lawsuit, saying they don’t normally comment on pending litigation.

First Liberty’s Ms. Patterson said they’re “hoping that a preliminary injunction would protect the school and allow it to participate in the school choice program for the next school year.”

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said the group supports the lawsuit.

“We want to see parents have the freedom to make what they consider is the best educational choice for their children,” he said.

Mr. Conley said the group “doesn’t care if it’s a public school or nonsectarian or sectarian private school, or homeschooling, we believe, and support parents to have the choice to raise their children as they see best.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide