A new lawsuit over Maine’s tuition reimbursement program for private schools contends an antidiscrimination law unfairly targets religious schools to prevent their participation.
The law requiring all schools to follow state antidiscrimination laws, including protections for LGBTQ students and faculty, to receive reimbursements went into effect before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Maine can’t exclude religious schools from its program that offers tuition aid for private education.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, contends the law discriminates against religious schools by imposing restrictions that specifically aim to keep them out of the program.
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“Maine lost at the U.S. Supreme Court just last year but is not getting the message that religious discrimination is illegal,” Lea Patterson, attorney for Texas-based First Liberty Institute, one of two law firms representing Bangor Christian School, said Tuesday in a statement.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said the Maine Human Rights Act protects all residents from discrimination and he said he’s “steadfast” in upholding the law. “If abiding by this state law is unacceptable to the plaintiffs, they are free to forego taxpayer funding,” Frey said Tuesday.
There were several lawsuits over the years over Maine’s program that provides tuition reimbursements for private schools for students who live in communities that don’t have a public school.
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The state program excluded religious schools from participation before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling, which was hailed as a victory for school choice proponents.
In the Maine case, parents sued to be able to use state aid to send their children to Bangor Christian School and Temple Academy in Waterville. Both of those schools have policies that discriminate on a basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the attorney general said previously.
The Maine Human Rights Act was amended by state legislators with regards to its application to schools just before the Supreme Court agreed to hear that lawsuit.
In the end, neither Bangor Christian School nor Temple Academy in Waterville applied to participate last fall. Only one religious school, Cheverus High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school in Portland, submitted an application for tuition reimbursement and was approved by the state.