Email Shows Hermon School Board Member Discriminated Against Christian Church Over Religious Views


When the Pines Church wanted to rent the Hermon High School for their Sunday services last November, Hermon School Board member Chris McLaughlin asked questions about the church’s beliefs that reeked of anti-Christian discrimination.

As the church and the school district were negotiating a potential rental agreement, McLaughlin sent a Nov. 8 email to Hermon Superintendent Micah Grant in which he said he wanted to get a better sense of the how the Bangor-area Evangelical church approaches issues of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

McLaughlin included in the email a series of questions which he wanted Grant to pose on his behalf to Matt Gioia, the Pines Church head pastor.

“Is the Pines Church receptive of same sex marriage?” asked McLaughlin.

“I’m also wondering if Matt can share more information on where the Pines Church stands on issues such as: access to safe and affordable abortion, access to gender affirming medical care, conversion therapy for LGBTQIA+ individuals (youths and adults), inclusive sexual education and access to birth control for youth.”

McLaughlin doesn’t say in the email how Gioia’s potential answers to these questions would affect his stance on allowing the church to rent Hermon’s space, but the implication seems clear: Unless the Christians of Pines Church agreed with McLaughlin about taxpayer funded abortions, sex-change surgeries, and birth control for kids, then McLaughlin wouldn’t support their rental agreement.

The following month McLaughlin was the only school board member to vote against offering the church a month-to-month lease for the space.

The Christian Civic League of Maine said in a statement that McLaughlin’s inquisition may have opened the school board up to a future lawsuit.

“Chris McLaughlin’s communication is a blatant example of hostility toward any religion not aligned with his personal values,” said Michael McClellan, the League’s Policy Director.

“Any past or future decisions by this or any other school board based upon this obvious animus creates clear legal vulnerabilities to litigation regarding religious discrimination,” said McClellan.

The Maine Wire asked Grant, the superintendent, whether he thought McLaughlin’s treatment of Pines Church was appropriate, but he did not respond.

McLaughlin also did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story and asking whether he makes similar inquiries for other potential Hermon renters or only for Christians.

In addition to serving on the Hermon School Board, McLaughlin is a licensed social worker and an adjunct professor at the University of Maine’s School of Social Work. He also runs a consulting business that provides diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting services to several Maine schools.

McLaughlin has drawn criticism from conservative parents in the past for his advocacy for keeping sexually explicit books in the school library and his support for controversial gender identity policies that allow — or require — school staff to keep information about students’ mental health secret from parents.

Gioia, who relocated to Maine from Colorado amid the pandemic to start the church along with his wife and six kids, has been holding services at the Spotlight Cinema in Orono. The church was interested in the Hermon space because it would allow them to expand.

Like most Evangelical Christians, Pines Church members believe in the Bible and tend to take a more conservative view of traditional family values, abortion, and human sexuality.

Gioia said the school asked for $600 per week, but that they offered $1,000 as a measure of good faith. He was seeking a yearlong lease, but the school instead offered a month-to-month arrangement, which would have made it much harder to plan long term.

“I can’t exactly advertise an Easter service if I don’t know whether I’ll have a church,” he said. He said he felt like the board opting for the short term agreement was a “no wrapped in a yes.”

“Hermon is a conservative, family-oriented town,” he said. “We thought we’d have a lot of success there.”

“We thought we’d be welcomed with open arms,” he said.

Instead, he said he was stunned by the display of intolerance.

“I’ve heard people say religion has become too political, but I think politics has become too religious,” he said.

The email, which you can see below, was provided to the Maine Wire by parents rights advocate Shawn McBreairty, who filed a Freedom of Access Act Request last year.


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