State Assesses Impact of Supreme Court Ruling on Tuition Program

June 22 – State officials raced on Tuesday to understand the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Maine’s ban on taxpayer funding of religious school tuition, considering take legislative action to enforce state law or eliminate the tuition program altogether.

Under Maine state law, about 5,000 high school students who live in a school district without a public high school — about 1 in 10 Maine high school students — can get about $12,000 a year in local tax dollars for pay tuition at an accredited institution or approved private pre-school.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the portion of Maine’s law that bars religious schools from participating in the high school tuition program, leaving the attorney general’s office that argued the case in the High Court wondering. how to interpret the decision.

Attorney General Aaron Frey doesn’t think many religious schools in the state would want to apply to be on the state Department of Education’s list of schools approved to receive public tuition funding, because that would mean that they would have to respect Maine’s human rights. Law.

This law prohibits any organization that accepts public funding – including religious organizations like the schools at the heart of this Supreme Court case – from discriminating against anyone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability, Frey said.

The schools involved in this lawsuit, Temple Academy in Waterville and Bangor Christian Schools, have policies that discriminate against students and staff who are gay or identify as a gender other than listed on their birth certificate, Frey said.

Bangor Christian Schools embraces the philosophy that men are leaders of both the home and the church, according to case documents that plaintiffs and defendants have agreed to. The school budget is approved by a board of deacons which prohibits women from serving.

BIAS IN SCHOOL POLICIES

The school’s admissions policy said it admitted students of any race, color, or national or ethnic origin, but it said nothing about whether it discriminates on the basis of gender, identity gender, sexual orientation or religion.

According to its manual, the school believes that a student who is gay or identifies with a gender other than the one listed on their original birth certificate would not be able to sign the agreement governing codes of conduct that it requires as a condition of school. ‘admission. .

A student who admits to being gay or representing themselves as a gender that was not listed on their birth certificate would be counseled first, and if that student did not change their mind, they would be suspended and likely expelled, according to court documents.

According to case records, Temple Academy will not admit a homosexual student, although there are currently enrolled students who “struggle” against homosexuality. A child of the opposite sex would not be eligible for admission to Temple Academy.

Temple will not admit a child who lives in a two-father or two-mother family, records show.

Parents of Temple students must sign a Family Pact in which they agree with the school’s views on abortion, homosexuality, and the sanctity of marriage, and acknowledge that the school may order removal of a student if “the student does not fit the spirit of the institution,” the records say.

Neither Temple nor Bangor Christian Schools responded to emails and phone calls Tuesday requesting an interview about the decision. It is unclear if they will apply to be on the national list of schools approved to receive publicly funded students, or if the Supreme Court ruling even requires it.

Given the composition of the court, its recent rulings and questions asked by the judges during oral argument, Frey said Maine expected to lose that decision, but noted that the details of the decision were new and said said it would take time to interpret it and decide how to react.

RULE CREATES VOUCHERS PROGRAM

The decision essentially transformed Maine’s tuition program, which was intended to give students without a public high school the benefit of a public school education, into a voucher program, Frey said. This undermines most Mainers’ desire to keep church and state separate.

“But it also means public funds will be used to support education programs that are not inclusive,” Frey said. “I don’t think it’s benefiting Maine. I think it’s going to cause conflict. Policymakers are going to have to decide whether they want to change the law or maybe even get rid of the tuition program.”

Many conservative families who might initially welcome this decision might have different feelings if their local tax money were to be used to pay tuition at an Islamic or Jewish religious school, or a school that promotes agnosticism or other than Christian beliefs, Frey said.

In the majority view, the court argued that Maine had a choice if it didn’t want to open its tuition programs to religious schools – school districts could build their own high schools, transport their students to other public high schools, set up a distance learning school system or build public boarding schools.

“It would mean that families in rural areas who have always been able to choose where to send their children for public education could lose that right because it will no longer be there,” Frey said. “Not if it means we have to accept discriminatory practices to do so.”

Some Maine groups that advocate for LGBTQ rights took to Twitter on Tuesday to protest the decision.

“We are disappointed but not surprised by today’s SCOTUS decision,” tweeted Equality Maine, a Portland-based organization with statewide reach. “Many religious schools openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, promote only their beliefs, and are closed to dissenting views.”

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