Federal Court Considers Case to Force Maine Tuition Program to Pay for Religious Education


Portland - The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Maine, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a Maine case regarding the use of taxpayer funds to pay tuition at schools that indoctrinate children in religion.

The case, Carson v. Makin, was filed by the Institute for Justice and the First Liberty Institute, who demand that Maine’s taxpayer-funded tuition program pay for religious instruction at Bangor Christian Schools in Bangor and Temple Academy in Waterville. Both schools would use the taxpayer-funded tuition to teach students religious doctrine and train them in religious rites and observances.

“Courts have already ruled four times that Maine’s decision to keep religious training out of the taxpayer-funded tuition program is constitutional,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “It would be devastating to religious freedom to reverse course now.”

The ACLU and AU oppose the use of taxpayer-funded tuition programs at schools that would use public funds for religious activities and purposes. The ACLU and AU assert that states have longstanding, traditional interests in not funding religious training, and that it would be a perversion of the U.S. Constitution to force states to fund religious education.

The ACLU and AU further oppose the use of taxpayer funds to support religious discrimination, including religiously-motivated discrimination against LGBTQ people or others.

The court record discloses that the two religious schools at issue discriminate in admissions and employment against non-Christians and LGBTQ people. All teachers at both schools must be born-again Christians “who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.” Temple Academy also requires teachers to sign an employment agreement stating that “God recognize[s] homosexuals and other deviants as perverted.”

At Bangor Christian, students who come out as LGBTQ must renounce their sexual orientation or gender identity after counseling or be expelled. Temple Academy not only prohibits gay and lesbian students but also refuses to admit students with gay or lesbian parents. 

“Forcing Maine residents to pay for religious education – particularly at private schools that can discriminate against students – is a fundamental violation of religious freedom,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director. “The court should reject this lawsuit and maintain the state’s current protections that ensure that taxpayers aren’t compelled to support religious beliefs with which they may not agree.”

The Maine law prohibiting the use of public tuition funds at schools that teach religious doctrine has been challenged on four previous occasions, in both state and federal court. It was upheld as constitutional all four times.

Carson v. Makin was filed on August 21, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

The ACLU and AU’s amicus brief is available here: https://www.aclumaine.org/sites/default/files/carson_amicusbrief.pdf