Education

Briefs submitted in Maine school choice lawsuit

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The Maine Heritage Policy Center and EdChoice recently filed an amicus brief in Carson et al v. Makin, a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that challenges the sectarian exclusion within Maine’s town tuitioning program, which prevents families from receiving state aid to send their children to a religious school.

The plaintiffs in the case, David and Amy Carson, Alan and Judy Gillis, and Troy and Angela Nelson, all live in Maine school districts that do not operate their own secondary schools. Under Maine law, a municipality that neither maintains a public secondary school nor contracts with another district for secondary school services must pay for a resident student’s tuition to a secondary school, public or private, of the family’s choice.

But in 1982, the Maine Legislature passed a law prohibiting public money from flowing to sectarian schools via this system, the state’s town tuitioning program. Today, these funds can only be used to send a student to a public school or a secular private school.

Because money is directed to religious schools through parents’ individual choice, rather than as mandated by the state, MHPC and EdChoice firmly believe Maine law currently discriminates against families who want to send their child to a religious school, violates the free exercise of religion, and undermines the benefits of school choice in the limited Maine jurisdictions where it exists. The full brief can be read below.

The American Civil Liberties Union and its state affiliate, the ACLU of Maine, filed a similar friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the state’s law barring tuition payments from flowing to sectarian schools, known as a Blaine Amendment, though in Maine it exists in state law, not in the state constitution. They were joined by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hindu American Foundation, Interfaith Alliance Foundation and other groups.

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice threw its support behind the Carson, Gillis and Nelson families to end religious discrimination within Maine’s school choice program in accordance with President Donald Trump’s May 4, 2017 executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty.

“That discriminatory restriction is odious to our Constitution and it cannot stand,” the Justice Department brief states.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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