Students in Maine are guaranteed free public education until they graduate high school. But in some rural parts of the state, where there are no local schools, students have the option of attending a private school on the state’s dime (as long as they’re accepted).
State law, however, mandates that those schools must be secular. Taxpayer money won’t be used to pay tuition at a religious school. Makes perfect sense.
But now, three sets of families represented by the (Libertarian) Institute for Justice and the (conservative) First Liberty Institute are suing the state because they claim it’s illegal for the state to deny the tuition funding to the Christian schools they want to attend. Their schools meet every condition laid out by the state for a tuition reimbursement… except for the religion part.
That’s… a weird argument to make. Maine is “singling” out religious schools as unacceptable for tuition payments because using tax money to pay for Jesus school would violate the Constitution in an actually egregious way.
“In Maine, parents who live in towns without public high schools have the right to select the public or private school that best suits their children’s educational needs. The town then pays tuition to the school that the parents choose—unless the school is religious,” explained IJ’s lead counsel in the case, Senior Attorney Tim Keller. “By singling out religious schools, and only religious schools, for discrimination, Maine violates the U.S. Constitution.”
It’s telling that the lawyers cite the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran, when they said a church couldn’t be excluded from applying for grant money provided by the state. That decision said the church in question should be eligible for the taxpayer-funded grant because they wanted it for a secular purpose (renovating a playground). If they wanted the money to, say, cover the costs of Sunday School, they may very well have lost that case.
That’s what should happen here. Maine shouldn’t be paying tuition for religious schools, because taxpayers shouldn’t be funding religious indoctrination. The parents are welcome to send their kids to such schools, but the state is under no obligation to help them out. It’s just that simple.
We’ll find out soon enough if a judge agrees with that assessment.