U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Maine Religious Schools Tuition Fee Case


PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – The United States Supreme Court ruled on Friday that it would hear a case brought by families in Maine who want to use a state schooling program to send their children to religious schools.

At the heart of the matter is a rule from the Maine Department of Education that allows families who live in cities that do not have public schools to receive public tuition fees to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. This program excludes religious schools.

Families who want to send their children to Christian schools in Bangor and Waterville have taken legal action to try to change that, but have been dismissed in lower federal courts. They appealed to the High Court, and the Supreme Court’s list of orders said on Friday it was handling the case.

The libertarian public interest firm Institute For Justice, which represents families, called the case a “potentially historic case” in a statement released Friday. Michael Bindas, lead counsel in the case, said by “distinguishing religion – and only religion – for exclusion from its tuition assistance program,” Maine has limited the rights of families.

“It is unconstitutional and we are convinced that the Supreme Court will hold it as well,” Bindas said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Maine has successfully defended its rule every step of the way. Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement that religious schools are excluded from the program “because the education they provide is not equivalent to” public education.

“Parents are free to send their children to such schools if they wish, but not with public funds. I have no doubts that the Supreme Court will recognize that nothing in the Constitution obliges Maine to include religious schools in its public education system, ”Frey said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine also filed court documents in support of Maine’s rules that exclude religious schools from the tuition program. Maine ACLU legal director Zachary Heiden said he was confident the court would uphold Maine’s rules again.

“Every court, state and federal, that has reviewed Maine’s tuition fee law has found it constitutional,” Heiden said. “We hope the United States Supreme Court agrees.”

The Supreme Court ruled in a Montana case last year that states must give religious schools the same access to public funds that other private schools enjoy. Similar issues have also been raised in other states, such as Vermont and New Hampshire.

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