Government-Supported Religion

Maine Has The Right To Require Taxpayer-Funded Schools To Stop Discriminating

  Rob Boston

The Supreme Court in June ruled that the state of Maine must allow private religious schools to participate in a program that gives tuition reimbursement to parents who live in rural parts of the state where there are no public high schools.

The ruling in Carson v. Makin was one of a string of appalling church-state decisions by the high court, but there has been an interesting coda: Some of the religious schools that were so eager to receive taxpayer funding through the program are less interested now because they’ve been told they’ll have to abide by a state anti-discrimination law that protects members of the LGBTQ community and others.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey has made it clear that any private school that wants to take part in the program will fall under Maine’s Human Rights Act, a state law that bars discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. Thus, private schools that participate in the program would not be able to discriminate against students who are LGBTQ or refuse to hire LGBTQ people as teachers and staff.

The Associated Press reported that many religious schools in the state don’t want to abide by the law and haven’t applied to take part in the program. This has annoyed David Carson, one of the parents who brought the legal challenge with legal assistance from a pro-voucher group called the Institute for Justice and the conservative Christian group First Liberty Institute.

“It’s disappointing when you do all this and nothing happens,” Carson told the AP. “It’s kind of a circus to me. The Supreme Court says one thing, but the state attorney general just does what he wants to do.”

Actually, the attorney general is doing his job, which includes ensuring that Maine residents are free from discrimination, especially in taxpayer-funded programs.

Private religious schools in Maine might have been under the impression that they could rake in millions in taxpayer support and not have to abide by any regulations or even minimal oversight. It doesn’t work that way. When the government funds a program, it has the right – really, an obligation – to make certain the money is spent in the public interest.

Allowing rampant discrimination isn’t in the public interest. If Maine’s private religious schools are bound and determined to discriminate, they can pay for it on their own dime, not the taxpayer’s.

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