Aug 13, 1998

A federal district court decision barring voucher-style aid to religious schools protects taxpayers and constitutional principles, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"This decision sends a strong message that taxpayers should never be forced to support private religious education," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, a watchdog group that provided legal assistance in the case. "The Maine case was one more attempt to tear down public education and introduce a voucher program subsidizing private religious schools. The court rightly said no."

In Strout v. Maine Department of Education, U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby ruled Aug. 11 that the state is not required to pay for religious school tuition in public school districts where there are no public schools. Under Maine law, the state in such situations pays only for enrollment at nearby public or nonsectarian private schools.

"The plaintiffs certainly are free to send their children to a sectarian school. That is a right protected by the Constitution," Judge Hornby wrote. "The law is clear, however, that they do not have the right to require taxpayers to subsidize that choice."

TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, helped bring the suit against the state, backing local parents who wanted state funds for tuition at St. Dominic's Regional High School, a private Catholic school.

"Robertson and other religious school supporters have waged an unrelenting crusade against public schools and for tax aid to private religious schools," Lynn added. "With this defeat in Maine, Robertson faces one more court decision showing that the law is not on his side."