Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools

Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools

Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools

PORTLAND, Maine — A U.S. Supreme Court decision that says states can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education could breathe new life into efforts to force Maine and Vermont to help fund religious educations.

A lawsuit by three families in Maine who want the state to pay for for religious school tuition is already pending in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

A separate case in Vermont that would allow students from religious schools to participate in a program where high school students could take college courses at state expense is being appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Tim Keller of Institute for Justice in Virginia, which is representing the Maine families, said the 1st Circuit judges were skeptical during arguments but he said the Supreme Court ruling Tuesday in a Montana case changes things.

The plaintiffs made a new filing late Tuesday to reference the Montana decision that says states that subsidize private education cannot exclude religious private schools, Keller said in an email.

The Maine Department of Education currently allows families who reside in towns without their own public schools to receive tuition to attend a public or private school, as long as it’s not a parochial school.

“Excluding religious schools from the array of options open to Maine parents who receiving the tuition benefit, simply because they are religious schools, is now clearly unconstitutional,” Keller wrote.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said the cases are different and that he expects the state to prevail. The Montana case focuses on its constitution broadly barring government aid to schools operated by religious organizations and does not require Maine to do the same, he said.

“We remain confident that the First Circuit will uphold Maine’s restriction against sectarian schools receiving public funds,” he said.

Vermont has a long history of using public money to pay for high school educations at private schools for students who live in towns that don’t have their own high schools. But the state Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that public money cannot be used for religious schools.

Last year, the group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the Vermont Education Agency on behalf of a number of students from the Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington saying they wished to take college classes under Vermont’s Dual Enrollment program, but were excluded because they attend a Catholic high school.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss denied the students a preliminary injunction. Earlier this month, the students filed their notice of appeal with the 2nd Circuit.

“In Vermont you have this dual enrolment program that pretty much everybody is eligible for, but if you attend a private religious school then you are almost universally excluded from it,” Alliance Attorney John Bursch said Tuesday. “So it suffers from the same religious discrimination that was at issue in (the Montana case).”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a dispute over a Montana scholarship program for private K-12 education that also makes donors eligible for state tax credits. The 5-4 decision overturned a state supreme court ruling that the tax credit violated the Montana constitution’s ban on state aid to religious schools.

Bursch said he felt the impact of the decision in Vermont could go beyond the dual enrolment issues in the current case he is involved in.

“The U.S. Supreme Court emphatically rejected that and said you are discriminating against religious schools and families who attend religious schools based on their status as religion,” he said.

Ted Fisher, a spokesman for the Vermont Education Agency, said Tuesday the state had not reviewed the Supreme Court ruling “or to evaluate its applicability to Vermont.”

___

Ring reported from Stowe, Vermont.

David Sharp And Wilson Ring, The Associated Press

Religion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The roof at the Bashaw Arena may be redone sooner than first thought, as the town is hoping the project gets approval under the province's new municipal stimulus program.
File photo
farm
Researching cover crop cocktails

A two-year trial is looking at the impact of multispecies annual cocktail blends in the Peace Country

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragic milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

The Red Deer Games Foundation has made changes to its grant program as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo supplied)
Red Deer Games Foundation adjusts grant program due to COVID-19 pandemic

The foundation postponed the spring 2020 grant program due to the COVID-19 pandemic

skip2
Rimbey Christian School students experience the joy of giving

Grades three and four students raised $2,000 for Somalian children

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council asks for a mask bylaw to be brought forward for consideration

The bylaw would require face coverings in all indoor Town-owned and operated facilities

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

Most Read