May 2023 Church & State Magazine - May 2023

Maine Religious School Demands Right To Taxpayer Funds While Discriminating


A private religious school in Maine says it should have the right to receive taxpayer support even though it discriminates in admitting students and hiring staff.

Bangor Christian School, which is run by Crosspoint Church, is suing the state with the help of First Liberty Institute, a Christian Nationalist legal organization.

Discriminating with tax funds: Bangor Christian Schools (Photo by Sean Faircloth)

The lawsuit’s roots go back to June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Maine officials 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 program had been limited to secular private schools, but some parents sued, demanding the right to send their children to religious schools. 

The high court allowed the religious schools to take part in the program in its ruling in Carson v. Makin. While the court permitted religious schools to enter the program, it did not address the issue of how they might be regulated.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey subsequently ruled that any schools choosing to participate in the tuition-reimbursement program must abide by the Human Rights Act, a state antidiscrimination 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.

First Liberty argued that the law is a “poison pill” intended to keep religious schools out of the program. State officials counter that the state has a legitimate interest in barring discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs. 

Frey told reporters he will defend the antidiscrimination statute. “If abiding by this state law is unacceptable to the plaintiffs, they are free to forego taxpayer funding,” he said.

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