December 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

The state of Maine should not be required to fund religious education as part of a private school voucher program, Americans United and several allied groups argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed on Nov. 6.

Maine pays private-school tuition for students who live in rural areas of the state where there is no public high school. Payments, however, are limited to non-religious private schools.

The plaintiffs in the case have demanded that Maine pay for tuition at Bangor Christian Schools in Bangor and Temple Academy in Waterville. Both schools would use taxpayer-funded tuition to teach students religious doctrine and train them in religious rites and observances.

The two sectarian schools also discriminate in admissions and employment against non-Christians and LGBTQ people. For example, Temple Academy not only prohibits gay and lesbian students but also refuses to admit students with gay or lesbian parents. And students who come out as LGBTQ at Bangor Christian must renounce their sexual orientation or gender identity after counseling or be expelled. In addition, teachers at both schools must be born-again Christians “who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.” And Temple Acad­emy requires teachers to sign an employment agreement stating that “God recognize[s] homosexuals and other deviants as perverted.”

In the brief, Americans United and its allies argue that Maine taxpayers should not be compelled to finance tuition at religious schools where taxpayer funds will be used to support religious instruction and discrimination based on religion, LGBTQ status and/or other protected characteristics.

“Maine residents should never be forced to support religious education or discrimination,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director. “Diverting public funds to those uses would violate the religious freedom of taxpayers, parents, and students.”

The case, Carson v. Makin, marks the third time the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a challenge to Maine’s law prohibiting the use of tuition funds for religious education. The court has twice upheld the program, as has the Maine Sup­reme Court.

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