Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools

Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools

Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools

PORTLAND, Maine — A U.S. Supreme Court decision that says states can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education could breathe new life into efforts to force Maine and Vermont to help fund religious educations.

A lawsuit by three families in Maine who want the state to pay for for religious school tuition is already pending in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

A separate case in Vermont that would allow students from religious schools to participate in a program where high school students could take college courses at state expense is being appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Tim Keller of Institute for Justice in Virginia, which is representing the Maine families, said the 1st Circuit judges were skeptical during arguments but he said the Supreme Court ruling Tuesday in a Montana case changes things.

The plaintiffs made a new filing late Tuesday to reference the Montana decision that says states that subsidize private education cannot exclude religious private schools, Keller said in an email.

The Maine Department of Education currently allows families who reside in towns without their own public schools to receive tuition to attend a public or private school, as long as it’s not a parochial school.

“Excluding religious schools from the array of options open to Maine parents who receiving the tuition benefit, simply because they are religious schools, is now clearly unconstitutional,” Keller wrote.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said the cases are different and that he expects the state to prevail. The Montana case focuses on its constitution broadly barring government aid to schools operated by religious organizations and does not require Maine to do the same, he said.

“We remain confident that the First Circuit will uphold Maine’s restriction against sectarian schools receiving public funds,” he said.

Vermont has a long history of using public money to pay for high school educations at private schools for students who live in towns that don’t have their own high schools. But the state Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that public money cannot be used for religious schools.

Last year, the group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the Vermont Education Agency on behalf of a number of students from the Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington saying they wished to take college classes under Vermont’s Dual Enrollment program, but were excluded because they attend a Catholic high school.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss denied the students a preliminary injunction. Earlier this month, the students filed their notice of appeal with the 2nd Circuit.

“In Vermont you have this dual enrolment program that pretty much everybody is eligible for, but if you attend a private religious school then you are almost universally excluded from it,” Alliance Attorney John Bursch said Tuesday. “So it suffers from the same religious discrimination that was at issue in (the Montana case).”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a dispute over a Montana scholarship program for private K-12 education that also makes donors eligible for state tax credits. The 5-4 decision overturned a state supreme court ruling that the tax credit violated the Montana constitution’s ban on state aid to religious schools.

Bursch said he felt the impact of the decision in Vermont could go beyond the dual enrolment issues in the current case he is involved in.

“The U.S. Supreme Court emphatically rejected that and said you are discriminating against religious schools and families who attend religious schools based on their status as religion,” he said.

Ted Fisher, a spokesman for the Vermont Education Agency, said Tuesday the state had not reviewed the Supreme Court ruling “or to evaluate its applicability to Vermont.”

___

Ring reported from Stowe, Vermont.

David Sharp And Wilson Ring, The Associated Press

Religion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New record: Red Deer at 236 active COVID cases

One more death in central zone reported

(Photo Courtesy of Fortis Alberta)
New FortisAlberta instillation in Sylvan means more reliability and shorter power interruption times

FortisAlberta recently installed a Distribution Automation system in Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake RCMP Detachment. Photo Courtesy of Google Maps
Sylvan Lake RCMP address three key areas of resident concern

RCMP were notified of these main areas of concern through an online Town Hall

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Wetaskiwin Composite High School. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools prepare for transition back to online learning

Grades 7-12 will are mandated to transfer to online learning starting Nov. 30, 2020.

Lawyer Devon Page, Ecojustice Canada’s executive director, pauses during a news conference in Vancouver on Wed., Sept. 26, 2012. The environmental law group has lost its bid to pause Alberta’s inquiry into where critics of its oil and gas industry get their funding. Ecojustice sought an injunction this summer to suspend the inquiry, headed by forensic accountant Steve Allan, until there is a decision on whether it’s legal. nbsp;THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Judge tosses application to pause Alberta inquiry into funding of oil and gas foes

Ecojustice sought an injunction in the summer to suspend the inquiry

Janelle Robinson owns and operates Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. The Ranch, just north of Stettler, is an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety. Mark Weber/Stettler Independent
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

Most Read