Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Maine in late October filed a motion to intervene in a case in Maine regarding the use of taxpayer funds to pay tuition at schools that indoctrinate children in religion.
“It is a fundamental violation of religious freedom to force Maine taxpayers to support education in religious beliefs which they do not hold,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Americans United’s associate legal director. “And taxpayers should never be compelled to support discrimination, which some private religious schools practice.”
Some rural areas of Maine lack public high schools. In those cases, the state allows parents to send their children to secular private academies at taxpayer expense. The law excludes sectarian institutions from the program.
The case, Carson et al. v. Hasson, was filed by the Institute for Justice and the First Liberty Institute in federal court. The conservative groups are demanding that the tuition program be expanded to include two religious schools – Bangor Christian Schools in Bangor and Temple Academy in Waterville. Both schools would use the taxpayer-funded tuition to teach students religious doctrine and train them in religious rites and observances.
The ACLU and AU filed the motion to intervene as defendants in the case on behalf of several taxpayers residing in communities served by the affected school district, Regional School Unit 12, who are opposed to their tax dollars being used for explicitly religious activity. They would join the office of the Maine Attorney General, which represents current defendant Dr. Robert Hasson Jr., commissioner of the Maine Department of Education.
AU and the ACLU oppose the use of taxpayer-funded tuition programs at schools that would use public funds for religious activities and purposes. The groups will argue that states have longstanding traditional interests in not funding religious training, and that it is a perversion of the U.S. Constitution to force states to fund religious education.
“Maine’s state and federal courts have consistently held that Maine’s law is constitutional because taxpayers cannot be required to pay to teach children how to pray,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “We’ve helped defend this law four times already, and we hope to do so again.”
The ACLU and AU further oppose the use of taxpayer funds to support discrimination based on religious beliefs.
According to a 2009 article in the Bangor Daily News about Maine’s marriage-equality law, the Rev. Jerry Mick of Bangor Baptist Church, which oversees Bangor Christian Schools, said educators there teach students that marriage for same-sex couples and homosexuality are wrong. Mick told the paper, “We teach abstinence and that sex comes after marriage, not before. We teach moral values. We believe homosexuality is a perverse lifestyle. Our curriculum, even in science and math, is Christ-centered.”
The Maine law prohibiting the use of public tuition funds at schools that teach religious doctrine has been challenged on four previous occasions, in both state and federal court. It was upheld as constitutional all four times.