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

Portland - The ACLU of Maine is in federal court in Portland today to support the state’s policy of not spending taxpayer money on religious education. The ACLU of Maine, national ACLU, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed an amicus brief in the case, Carson v. Makin, in support of Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. Arguments are today, June 24, at 2:00 p.m. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

The case was filed by two organizations demanding that Maine’s taxpayer-funded tuition program pay for children to receive 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.

“Maine decided long ago against funding private religious education with taxpayer dollars. Courts have consistently upheld this decision,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “Parents have the right to send their children to any school or to educate their children at home, but the state should not be required to pay for private religious training and education.”

The ACLU and AU also oppose the use of taxpayer funds to religiously motivated discrimination against LGBTQ people or others.

According to documents included in the court record, the 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. 

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.

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

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