Oct 24, 2004

A federal appeals court has rejected arguments that a Maine education law must be expanded to include funding for private religious schools.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had filed a friend-of-the-court-brief with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, urging it to reject arguments that the U.S. Constitution requires Maine to fund private religious schools in the same manner it funds secular schools.

"This is another blow to voucher advocates who argue that the government is constitutionally required to fund religious schools," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "The courts have consistently rejected these backdoor voucher schemes."

The Maine law under challenge provides tuition for students to attend any school in districts that do not have their own public schools. But the law bars school districts from paying tuition to any private religious school. Parents in Minot County who chose to send their children to a Catholic school sued the state, arguing the law unconstitutionally discriminated against them because of their religious beliefs.

The 1st Circuit ruled Oct. 22 in Eulitt v. Maine that the state had legitimate "interests in concentrating limited state funds on its goal of providing secular education, avoiding entanglement, and allaying concerns about accountability that undoubtedly would accompany state oversight of parochial schools' curricula and policies."

The appeals court cited in its decision a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which affirmed that state government may refuse to provide funding to religious schools to protect church-state separation. 

In that decision, Locke v. Davey, the justices ruled that states couldn't be required to extend scholarship aid to college students training to become members of the clergy.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in the safeguarding religious freedom.