Christian School Sues State For Trying To Sidestep SCOTUS Decision On Religious Discrimination

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Kate Anderson Contributor
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A Christian school in Maine filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Education (DOE) for allegedly intending to circumvent a recent Supreme Court ruling barring the state from discriminating against religious schools.

In Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court ruled that religious and private schools are eligible to receive tuition funds through the state’s school choice program, provided that they met the same requirements as other schools. In response, Maine lawmakers passed legislation that limited the ability for religious schools to gain an exemption from certain nondiscrimination rules while participating in the program, prompting First Liberty Institute to file a lawsuit on behalf of Bangor Christian School on Tuesday. (RELATED: School Board Refuses To Review Policy Telling Girls To Leave Locker Room If Uncomfortable With Trans Students)

“From 1980 until the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Carson v. Makin, parents could not use their tuition benefit at a religious school. But in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Maine legislature changed the law to require BCS to violate its sincerely held religious beliefs in order to participate,” a press release on the lawsuit read. “This ‘poison pill’ imposes requirements that will prohibit BCS from teaching from its religious perspective or considering in admissions applicants’ alignment with the school’s statement of faith and religious educational mission.”

Demonstrators gather to protest a controversial religious freedom bill in Indianapolis

Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence during a rally in Indianapolis March 28, 2015. (REUTERS/Nate Chute)

The lawsuit explained that the new rule excluded religious schools that participated in the school tuition program from being able to gain an exemption protecting their right to teach in accordance with their religious beliefs. If a school wishes to gain access to the school choice program they must either teach subjects that violate their religious beliefs or potentially be “subject to investigations, complaints, and large fines for offering instruction consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“This ‘poison pill’ effectively deters religious schools from participating and thereby perpetuates the religious discrimination at the heart of the sectarian exclusion,” the lawsuit read. “The Legislature crafted the poison pill explicitly to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision in Carson. The poison pill also specifically targeted Plaintiff, who operates the school that two of the Carson plaintiffs attended.”

Lea Patterson, an FLI attorney, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the state’s hostility could be easily found in Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey’s public statement that followed the Supreme Court’s Carson v. Makin decision. Frey said that he was “disheartened” by the decision and accused religious schools of being “fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear,” arguing that religious schools “promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.”

“I think [Frey’s statement] pretty clearly sums up that the state’s position is that religious schools should not participate because the state does not like their religious beliefs,” Patterson told the DCNF. “Obviously I can’t predict the future, but I am confident [about the court’s upcoming decision on the lawsuit].”

The Maine DOE did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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