October 2022 Church & State Magazine

Maine Officials Nix Discrimination With Taxpayer Funds

  Maine Officials Nix Discrimination With Taxpayer Funds

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, but, as it turns out, most religious schools don’t want to take part in the program because doing so would require them to drop discriminatory provisions.,

The high court’s ruling in Carson v. Makin was one of a string of decisions undermining church-state decisions by the high court last term. The court upheld the right of religious schools to take part in the program but didn’t address the issue of how they might be regulated.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey has made it clear that any schools that participate in the tuition reimbursement program must abide by the Human Rights Act, a state anti-discrimination law that protects members of the LGBTQ community and others.

The law bars discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. In the case of private schools, it would apply to students, teachers and staff members,

The Associated Press (AP) 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. Maine education officials reported that only one school had applied.

Application of the law has annoyed David Carson, one of the parents who brought the legal challenge with 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.”

But Americans United noted on its “Wall of Separation” blog that Maine is acting in the public’s best interest.

“Actually, the attorney general is doing his job, which includes ensuring that Maine residents are free from discrimination, especially in taxpayer-funded programs,” observed Church & State Editor Rob Boston. “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.”

Concluded Boston, “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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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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